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Instant Analysis: Consumer Reports Speaks Up About Tesla's Autopilot

By Daniel Sparks – Jul 14, 2016 at 12:06PM

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The influential magazine wants Tesla to take these four actions.

Since electric-car maker Tesla Motors (TSLA -6.37%) recently reported its first fatal crash that occurred while Autopilot was activated, the technology has been under heightened scrutiny in the media and, more notably, by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And now Consumer Reports is jumping into the conversation with its own opinion about Autopilot.

Autopilot. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Consumer Reports' primary concern with Autopilot appears to be with the way Tesla is marketing the system.

While the exact cause of the fatal accident is not yet known, the incident has caused safety advocates, including Consumer Reports, to question whether the name Autopilot, as well as the marketing hype of its roll-out, promoted a dangerously premature assumption that the Model S was capable of truly driving on its own.

The name Autopilot, along with Tesla's heavy marketing of the system, could confuse owners with two contradictory messages, Consumer Reports says.

Consumer Reports experts believe that these two messages -- your vehicle can drive itself, but you may need to take over the controls at a moment's notice -- create potential for driver confusion. It also increases the possibility that drivers using Autopilot may not be engaged enough to to [sic] react quickly to emergency situations.

In conjunction with its concerns, Consumer Reports is requesting Tesla disable Autosteer "until it can be reprogrammed to require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel," change its driver-assist system's name, publish "clearer guidance" for owners about how the system should be used and what its limitations are, and end "beta" releases.

Does it matter?

Consumer Reports concerns are definitely worthy of investor attention. As arguably the most influential publication for reviewing and recommending products, the magazine's opinion could impact Tesla vehicle sales. For now, it's difficult to tell whether this heightened scrutiny will change the trajectory of Tesla's business results. But, depending on how Tesla responds, there could be more meaningful implications for investors ahead.

Investors may want to keep an eye out for a blog post from Tesla that it says it is working on. The post will "highlight how Autopilot works and what drivers are expected to do after they activate it," according to The Wall Street Journal, citing an interview with Tesla CEO Elon Musk. 

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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