Tesla responds to ‘cover-up’ claims in ‘Montana Autopilot Accident’, offers more details on investigation

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On Friday, we published an update on what is now being called the “Montana Tesla Autopilot Crash”. Our report featured a new public letter from the Model X owner involved in the accident, known as Mr. Pang, in which he claimed that Tesla didn’t contact him after the fact and was “covering up” the accident by quickly putting the blame on him.

At the time, we asked Tesla to comment on the new allegations, but the company referred to its previous statement on the accident. Today, the automaker decided to respond directly in its own public letter to Mr. Pang in order to address the situation.

Tesla denies the claim that they made no attempt to contact Pang after the accident. The automaker gathered a reputation for quickly contacting Tesla owners right after accidents to offer any assistance possible, but in his public letter, Pang said that “Tesla never contacted [him] after the accident” and “just issued conclusion without thorough investigation, but blaming [him] for the crash.”

The automaker now says that the company spoke to him through a translator (Pang speaks Mandarin) on the morning of the crash, then to his wife on the following Monday (when the accident came to light after our first report) and that the company made several unsuccessful attempts to talk to him directly last week.

They also deny Pang’s assertion that there was no thorough investigation and reiterated that they reviewed the vehicle logs which show that he didn’t respond to several alerts asking him to take control of the vehicle prior to the crash.

After the crash, Pang insisted that he did not receive any alert from the vehicle prior to the accident and that it veered on its own into a barrier. His Model X hit a dozen barrier posts before he managed to stop the car manually. The result:

Furthermore, Tesla also explained the claim in Pang’s letter that the Model X’s motor was “still running in high-speed” after the vehicle came to a stop. Pang wrote in the letter last Friday:

“Afraid that the battery was broken or short circuited, we got out and ran away as fast as we could. After we ran about 50 feet, we found the sound was the engine were still running in high speed. I returned to the car and put it in parking, that is when the loud sound disappeared.”

Tesla explained, again based on the vehicle logs, that the vehicle was on “creep mode”, which is an option in Tesla’s vehicles to imitate a gas-powered’s car “creep” when not pressing the accelerator. The automaker explained that since the mode was activated and the key was still in the car, the motor kept going until it was put in park.

In its letter, Tesla mentioned Pang’s “stated preference to air [his] concerns in a public forum” to explain why it was willing to publicly release its brief analysis of the situation, but it would still like to talk to Pang directly.

Here’s Tesla official response in full:

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.

The Tesla team

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