Tesla Responds to Open Letter from Montana Crash Driver, It's Still His Fault

Tesla Model X Montana crash aftermath 1 photo
Photo: Collage of images uploaded by Eresan
Take a minute or two to read the whole text of the "Tesla team's" response to Mr. Pang's initial open letter, and then try to imagine just how it would have sounded had Elon Musk written it instead. It would have probably come with a P18 rating.
This, though, is a textbook PR reply where the automaker places the blame on the driver without looking too eager to do so. You don't get the feeling that Tesla takes any pleasure in reminding Mr. Pang that he's the only one at fault for what happened - even though, with all the unwanted attention lately, you can't help imagine there's a sense of relief every time the investigation of an Autopilot crash shows it was the driver who used it improperly.

As far as Tesla is concerned, that was long settled for the Montana incident. The company analyzed the vehicle's logs and issued a statement that basically said Mr. Pang did almost everything wrong. He activated the Autosteer system on an inappropriate road, he didn't keep his hands on the wheel, and he didn't respond when the car prompted him to do so. In other words, he was asking for it.

That was Tesla's response from almost two weeks ago, but since Mr. Pang was unhappy with the whole procedure and wrote a letter of his own, the company needed to address that as well. So it did, focusing on two of the key aspects invoked by the Model X driver: Tesla's failure to contact him after the accident and the fact the motor kept running after the car had come to a halt.

For the first issue, the company says that it spoke with Mr. Pang's translator the following morning, and with the driver's wife the next day. After that, it claims to have made multiple attempts at contacting Mr. Pang, but to no avail. The Tesla team used this occasion as well to inform Mr. Pang he is free to call at any time if he wishes to get in touch with a Tesla representative.

This second response also contains an explication for why the motor kept running after the car was stopped. It says that "since the vehicle had been left in Drive with Creep Mode enabled, the motor continued to rotate." It also welcomes the feedback and admits this might be a little "disconcerting" after a crash, and so promises to look into it in the future.

So, what's basically happened here is that Tesla is maintaining its position, but it's also trying to solution the incident behind closed doors. That doesn't necessarily mean it has anything to hide, but rather that it enjoys more attention than it would like to, so anything to calm the spirits down would be welcome. OK, Mr. Pang, now it's your move.

Dear Mr. Pang,

We were sorry to hear about your accident, but we were very pleased to learn both you and your friend were ok when we spoke through your translator on the morning of the crash (July 9). On Monday immediately following the crash (July 11), we found a member of the Tesla team fluent in Mandarin and called to follow up. When we were able to make contact with your wife the following day, we expressed our concern and gathered more information regarding the incident. We have since made multiple attempts (one Wednesday, one Thursday, and one Friday) to reach you to discuss the incident, review detailed logs, and address any further concerns and have not received a call back.

As is our standard procedure with all incidents experienced in our vehicles, we have conducted a thorough investigation of the diagnostic log data transmitted by the vehicle. Given your stated preference to air your concerns in a public forum, we are happy to provide a brief analysis here and welcome a return call from you. From this data, we learned that after you engaged Autosteer, your hands were not detected on the steering wheel for over two minutes. This is contrary to the terms of use when first enabling the feature and the visual alert presented you every time Autosteer is activated. As road conditions became increasingly uncertain, the vehicle again alerted you to put your hands on the wheel. No steering torque was then detected until Autosteer was disabled with an abrupt steering action. Immediately following detection of the first impact, adaptive cruise control was also disabled, the vehicle began to slow, and you applied the brake pedal.

Following the crash, and once the vehicle had come to rest, the passenger door was opened but the driver door remained closed and the key remained in the vehicle. Since the vehicle had been left in Drive with Creep Mode enabled, the motor continued to rotate. The diagnostic data shows that the driver door was later opened from the outside and the vehicle was shifted to park. We understand that at night following a collision the rotating motors may have been disconcerting, even though they were only powered by minimal levels of creep torque. We always seek to learn from customer concerns, and we are looking into this behavior to see if it can be improved. We are also continually studying means of better encouraging drivers to adhere to the terms of use for our driver assistance features.

We are still seeking to speak with you. Please contact Tesla service so that we can answer any further questions you may have.

Sincerely, The Tesla team
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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