Tesla owners can regularly look forward to over-the-air software updates. But there’s another side to a car manufacturer having real-time control over its vehicles, as one Tesla customer found out…
A man known only as ‘Alec’ recently purchased a used Model S from a third-party dealer. It was advertised as possessing “Full Self Driving Mode” and “Enhanced Autopilot”. However, Tesla has decided that Alec “did not pay” for the features and has therefore remotely disabled them; preventing him from using either. Even the dealer was unaware of this, as Tesla had conducted what it calls a ‘software audit’ of the car after selling it and disabled the advanced features in a December ‘update’.
Not best pleased, Alec naturally contacted Tesla’s customer support service and received the following statement: ‘Tesla has recently identified instances of customers being incorrectly configured for Autopilot versions that they did not pay for. Since, there was an audit done to correct these instances. Your vehicle is one of the vehicles that was incorrectly configured for Autopilot. We looked back at your purchase history and unfortunately Full-Self Driving was not a feature that you had paid for. We apologise for the confusion. If you are still interested in having those additional features we can begin the process to purchase the upgrade’.
For a bit of perspective, the self-driving features Tesla refers to cost around $8,000. Alec purchased the car based on a advertisement that listed these as being included. The claim, then, that he didn’t purchase these features is a curious one.
‘Messing With Owners Heads’
In 2018, it was reported that the braking distance of the Model 3 was worse than Ford’s F-150. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, acknowledged the fault and before long an over-the-air software update improved the Model 3’s braking distance by 19 feet. More recently, an update temporarily increased the range of cars in the vicinity of Hurricane Irma; the rationale being that this would make it easier for drivers to reach safety. This sort of technology has crept up on consumers and its ramifications are only just starting to be properly scrutinised and deliberated upon.
The delay in people taking note of the power of Tesla’s software updates is probably due to the fact that, in many cases, they’re incredibly positive; delivering popular new features to customers and making their cars ‘better’ without the need to visit a service centre. The problem is that, ultimately, Tesla can change your vehicle on a whim; and not always in ways customers want.
A scan of Tesla’s forums reveal a number of puzzled enquires. One driver, for instance, is convinced that his car has become “slower off of the mark” overnight. Explanations vary from claims that the poster has activated a ‘chill’ feature to conspiracy theories that Tesla is attempting to widen the gap between its cheapest and more expensive trims; many posters seem to have had similar experiences though.
Tesla’s over-the-air updates raise all kinds of questions about ownership, property rights and proper business practices. Not too long ago, if you bought a car with four-wheel drive (or indeed any hardware upgrade) that was it; the feature was yours and it was there to stay; unless you paid to have it removed or swapped. You knew where you stood. Now, however, our cars are going to have an ongoing relationship with manufacturers that exists beyond the say of drivers themselves. After you’ve made your purchase, things can be added and removed on a whim; sometimes without any kind of opt-in or consultation.
These updates don’t just concern little nuances, either. They can affect the entire driving experience. But there’s another dimension to this, too. In most Tesla cars everything that’s required for advanced or premium features is already in the vehicle. When you pay for them, Tesla simply flicks a switch and they activate. Is this really ethical? Should software cost thousands, especially when it’s already ready to go? This is a wider industry trend and we find it in video games, apps and a host of other products and services. A product is released which is ‘feature complete’ but we have to pay extra to activate all of them.
The Bottom Line
Alec’s story is an unfortunate one. He legitimately purchased a vehicle based on how it was advertised. After he discovered that a number of claimed features weren’t present, he’s told by the car’s manufacturer that he hasn’t paid for them. Surely this dispute exists between Tesla and the third-party, not the law-abiding, well-intending consumer? More importantly, how much control should Tesla (or any automaker) have over our cars once we’ve purchased them? In addition, what rights do we, or should we, have in deciding what software updates are made and when?
This is the flip side of over-the-air updates. Businesses can subtract as well as they can add. This means, at least in some cases, more power for them and less for consumers.
Jaguar I-Pace To Receive FREE Range Boost And ‘Over-Air’ Software – https://autoserve.co.uk/motoring-news/jaguar-i-pace-to-receive-free-range-boost-and-over-air-software/
Data Without Telematics: What You Need To Know – https://www.autoservefleet.co.uk/latest-news/data-without-telematics-what-you-need-to-know/
With over 16,000 approved garages, a 24/7 support service and a host of cost-saving offers, Autoserve can keep your car moving smoothly. For any further questions please call Autoserve on 0121 521 3500.