Sandy Munro Confuses Tesla Investigations With an Attack on Innovation

Tesla Autopilot 8 photos
Photo: Tesla
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Sandy Munro published an intriguing video on August 25. It could be compared to a conspiracy theory about the U.S. government trying to bring Tesla down if it did not come from a man with extensive experience in manufacturing and innovation in the automotive industry. His video rant is an attack on what he genuinely seems to believe is an attack on improving that industry. That alone makes it clear that he did not get the point with the recent actions from the U.S. government on Tesla.
NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is finally stepping up and taking measures that have been asked by NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), autonomous driving experts, and traffic safety organizations years ago. What all these guys asked was that the government took measures to prevent Tesla from using its customers to test new technology that may have safety implications not only to those driving but also to everyone around its cars. In the past, NHTSA has been accused of protecting Tesla for doing nothing about that.

Multiple companies are currently investigating autonomous driving technologies. They all have to make reports and follow protocols and rules to prevent anything bad from happening. That includes using private tracks for tests or trained drivers to perform these tests on public roads. Tesla dodged that by releasing software updates and allowing customers eager to test them to provide the data it needs. More than one has already died due to overreliance on these systems.

For years, Elon Musk promised Tesla vehicles would be autonomous. He said they would make a cross-country trip by 2017. In interviews, he contradicted Tesla’s own recommendations and took his hands off the steering wheel in a Level 2 system that is not hands-free. Many of his followers want to prove him right at their own stake and repeat or reinforce autonowashing, which is affirming something is more autonomous than it really is.

Sadly, this is precisely what Munro did in his last video. He shared how impressive it was for him to see FSD working with “artificial intelligence” taking 60ª and 120º turns on its own. He said these advancements would save millions of lives and that this effort was under attack. That’s right the opposite: people concerned with how these tests are being made and the risks they bring are the ones asking the government to do something.

Tesla Autopilot and FSD
Photo: Tesla
This is far from being an attack on innovation. So much so that multiple other companies are pursuing the same goals but following the rules. They do so because they care about the reputation of what they are developing. They want customers to trust the autonomous driving tech they are developing. What good is a system that only a handful of people are willing to use?

Under that perspective, these companies are doing more to save lives than just allowing people to do stupid things like sleeping in a moving car or believing that the vehicle can drive you home when you get drunk. Regular customers will only be able to have access to these technologies when they are fully mature, not while they are under development. This is what the entire discussion is all about.

Munro then seemed to mistake the reason for NHTSA’s recent investigation. He states that the safety agency should not investigate Tesla for battery fires. It already is and for multiple cases, but no inquiry on fires was announced recently.

In the engineer’s opinion, electric vehicles would be much safer and less prone to such blazes because there have been much fewer fires with electric cars. It would be a reasonable comparison if we had the same number of EVs in the streets as combustion-engined vehicles. We’re still far from that.

A proper comparison would put the number of EV fires against the size of their fleet and the number of combustion-engined car blazes against the total universe of these cars. If EVs are still much safer, it would still be worth remembering that battery pack fires are much more difficult to extinguish and demand a lot more water. Some fire departments even place EVs inside improvised water tanks to avoid reignition.

Tesla would probably avoid an investigation if it were more transparent on the reasons behind the fires with its cars. Instead, it released an OTA update that capped the voltage in many of its vehicles. Affected customers sued Tesla and accused it of trying to hide the reasons for the update, and the company is now trying to settle that lawsuit. Meanwhile, other fires keep happening, such as a recent one in Guangzhou, China.

Munro mentioned the Bolt EVs fires. GM has been a lot more transparent than Tesla about the causes, which is by no means a compliment. It only revealed the Bolt EV batteries could present a torn anode tab and a folded separator very recently. We have not heard from Tesla so far about why some of its vehicles caught fire.

The engineer then followed the same path Tesla used to defend its Level 2 systems and blamed the users. According to Munro, these are the guys that say “hold my beer” and make stupid decisions about how to use these systems. In his words, at least they would not have gone “in too deep in their thought process to figure out whether or not whatever they were going to do was going to have serious repercussions.”

For Munro, NHTSA started an investigation against Tesla on the same day in which the company made its AI Day. That was not exactly what happened. NHTSA launched that investigation on August 16, and it was about cars on Autopilot crashing emergency vehicles, not about fires. The AI Day was on August 19, three days later. If anyone was reacting to anything, the chronology suggests it was not the government agency.

Tesla Autopilot and FSD
Photo: Tesla
Munro also said that Congress decided to investigate Tesla. It was also not the case. Two Senate Democrats (Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey) asked the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to probe Tesla for promoting its driving aid systems as capable of full self-driving, which would mislead customers and endanger the public. That didn’t stop Munro from believing it was too much of a coincidence for all this to happen “on the same day.”

The engineer then praised Tesla for being a genuine American company and stated that Chinese companies would eventually come up with autonomous driving before everyone else. In other words, Congress and NHTSA would be slowing Tesla down. Munro is probably unaware that Nio is now facing a lot of scrutiny in China after a driver died while using NOP – its Level 2 driving assistant system. Nio even implemented a test to ensure customers know how to use it and that it is not an autonomous system.

In other words, if a Chinese company really presents a car with a true autonomous tech, it will not be without its perks, investigations, and following rules that allow it to happen. If that was a problem with U.S. regulations, Tesla could keep developing its tech in China, where it also has a factory.

Munro said that all other companies (General Motors, VW, Mercedes-Benz, and all the others) would be offering crappy driving assistant aids, and they would not be able to catch up. Munro recently tested Ford’s Blue Cruise, which uses geofencing, and he was not impressed.

Geofencing is used precisely to make the system safer. For Tesla fans, it is a limitation and a hindrance. They prefer the way Autopilot and FSD work despite the legal disclaimer stating it "may do the wrong thing at the worst time." Ironically, they hate exactly what makes other ADAS safer.

For Munro, the government’s actions would be an attempt to “make it an even plain field” by “crushing the only source of real American ingenuity.” Shortly after that, he says that he is not a Tesla fanatic and that nobody buys him, probably aware that he will be accused of defending Tesla for hidden interests.

We have no reason to side with such suspicions. Munro seems authentically happy to see a car company that just changes stuff and dares to make them different as Tesla often has. What he should not miss is that this is not an excuse for the company to do whatever it wants. Testing beta software with users may be ok with computers, but it is dangerous with 2-ton machines that can go from 0 to 60 mph in a few of seconds.

More than innovation, the automotive industry must be proud of manufacturing consistency, proper testing, and offering safe and reliable products for its customers. If any government has to take measures to ensure that happens, it should. It does not matter whether it is related to “the only source of real American ingenuity” or to a massive company that employs thousands of people. The rules should apply to everyone, especially the ones meant to protect lives.

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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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