Tesla edits Chinese website, scrubs talk of Autopilot in wake of Beijing crash [UPDATE]

August 15, 2016

Update: see below

Over the weekend, Tesla Motors tidied up its Chinese-language website. Although the company says that the edits have been in the works for a while, the timing is a bit suspicious. 

That's because the changes appear to come in response to a recent fender-bender in Beijing that involved a Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode. 

Autopilot has come under increasing scrutiny over the past month-and-a-half, as reports have emerged of two U.S. collisions that occurred when the semi-autonomous software was engaged. In one of those incidents, the driver of the Tesla was killed, and although investigations are still ongoing, reports suggest that he wasn't paying attention to the road.

In the wake of those two crashes, Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, have gone to great lengths to remind Congress, regulators, the press, and the public, that Autopilot is still in beta. The company says that shoppers are told that the system is opt-in, and that they have to keep their hands on the steering wheel, even when Autopilot is turned on.

Reports from China, however, suggest that Tesla sales personnel there haven't been nearly as clear about Autopilot's limitations. In fact, several Tesla owners in China--including the owner of the Model S involved in the accident, Luo Zhen--say that sales staff have led shoppers to believe that Autopilot is a fully autonomous driving system.

Until Sunday, those reports were supported by Tesla's Chinese-language website, which used the term "zidong jiashi" to describe Autopilot. Literally translated, the term means "self-driving", though it also can mean "autopilot". 

Yesterday, however, the website removed all use of the phrase "zidong jiashi". Furthermore, Tesla has instructed its sales team in China to keep both hands on the steering wheel when demonstrating Autopilot--something that Zhen and other say they did not do.

Tesla says that the updates to the website have been in the works for several weeks and have nothing to do with the August 2 collision in Beijing.

Update: Tesla now says that the term "zidong jiashi" was removed accidentally. The website's text will be updated to include the word "Autopilot" in English, followed by "zidong fuzhu jiashi"--a phrase that translates as "automatic-assist driving" and reiterates that Autopilot technology does not allow a Tesla to drive itself.

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