“They burn a lot of goodwill by not being transparent,” Morris told CNN Business. “People are starting to realize, ‘My car may never actually drive itself.'”
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
“The Ultimate Gadget”
Morris, a software engineer in Indiana, describes Teslas as “the ultimate gadget.” He got excited in recent years after hearing Musk talk about Teslas driving themselves.
Morris said he was happy with his first Tesla, a 2016 Model S. When its warranty ended, he bought the Model X that he still owns today. Then, almost a year ago, Morris surprised his wife on Mother’s Day with a Tesla Model Y.
Morris said that shortly before the SUV arrived, Tesla texted him saying the radar was being phased out of the automaker’s cruise control. Most automakers rely on radar for adaptive cruise control, which slightly speeds up and slows down the vehicle to keep pace with a vehicle ahead. (Tesla calls its adaptive cruise control, “traffic-aware cruise control.”)
Most autonomous vehicle experts favor sensor fusion, in which camera and radar data are combined to sense a car’s surroundings.
“It’s like pairing an A-student with another A-student,” said Steven Hong, vice president of radar technology at Ambarella, which combines radar and camera into one driver assistance system. “Put them together and you’ll get an A+ on your perception project because they cover each other’s weaknesses.”
The cameras can struggle in poor lighting conditions while the radar works even if there is rain, fog or mud covering the vehicle, he said.
Trouble for Morris started soon after the Model Y arrived, he said. The car often braked unexpectedly as his wife traveled down a two-lane road in rural Indiana. According to a CNN Business study, more than 120 drivers have filed complaints with NHTSA describing unexpected braking on two-lane roads.
“Cruise control is completely unusable on two-lane roads,” one person wrote in February who said they were from Des Moines, Iowa.
As his wife was driving down the two-lane highway last fall, his Model Y braked so hard that his children’s empty booster seats in the second row flew forward and crashed into the front seats, did he declare.
A concerned Morris contacted Tesla. The automaker told Morris, according to screenshots shared with CNN Business, that there was no hardware failure.
“Because there is no need for service, we will close this appointment,” the automaker wrote. He also explained that cruise control is a beta feature.
“As far as I know, cruise control shouldn’t be a beta feature,” he replied.
Then he checked his owner’s manual, which calls traffic-aware cruise control a beta feature. Tesla introduced the feature in 2015 and based on a review of Tesla owner’s manuals, it appears the automaker started calling it a “beta” feature in 2018.
Morris filed a complaint with the US government in November, noting that “we do not accept beta seat belts or beta tires.”
Thirty other Tesla owners who file unexpected braking complaints say Tesla canceled service appointments or told them there was nothing they could do, according to a review of the complaints by CNN Business.
Tesla introduced “traffic-sensitive cruise control” to its vehicles in 2015. Previously, Teslas included basic cruise control that maintained a constant speed without requiring drivers to keep their foot on the accelerator, according to a review of Tesla owners manuals.
Traffic-aware cruise control initially relied on radar and a camera to detect the road ahead, and Tesla warned of the limitations of the feature.
“Traffic Aware Cruise Control can sometimes brake Model S when it’s not needed,” the 2015 Model S owner’s manual warned. A similar warning remains in Tesla’s latest owner’s manuals.
Other automakers have also warned that adaptive cruise control has shortcomings. Ford, for example, warns that its system can brake unexpectedly. It advises against using adaptive cruise control on twisty roads, as General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Tesla do, according to a review of owner’s manuals.
Morris, the owner of Tesla, also drives a Ford F-150 with adaptive cruise control. He said he never experienced unexpected braking with it. He said his Model X, which has radar, doesn’t unexpectedly brake on the same roads as his wife’s radar-less Tesla.
But the use of radar does not prevent all unforeseen braking problems.
NHTSA opened an investigation last month into unexpected braking in 2017-2019 Honda CR-Vs and 2018-19 Honda Accords following 278 complaints. Honda’s system relies on radar.
Tesla owners have long described on social media episodes of phantom braking on radar-equipped vehicles, typically slowing the car about 5 mph, not as bad as reported to NHTSA.
Morris has since swapped the Model Y for Ford’s Mustang Mach-E. The infotainment system is “a little clunky” and can’t match Tesla’s, he said, but his unexpected braking worries have gone away. The system of the F-150 and Mustang is based on a radar and a camera.
Morris said he would have kept the Model Y if he had offered simplified cruise control that maintained a constant speed. He still loves his Model X, for now.
“If they ever turn off my radar,” Morris said. “I’ll probably get rid of it too.”