By Akash Sriram and David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tesla Inc disclosed on Tuesday the U.S. Justice Department has sought documents related to its Full Self-Driving (FSD) and Autopilot driver-assistance systems as regulatory scrutiny intensifies.
The automaker said in a filing it “has received requests from the DOJ for documents related to Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features.”
Reuters reported in October Tesla is under criminal investigation over claims that the company’s electric vehicles could drive themselves. Reuters said the U.S. Justice Department launched the probe in 2021 following more than a dozen crashes, some of them fatal, involving Autopilot.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has championed the systems as innovations that will both improve road safety and position the company as a technology leader.
Musk said at a recent Tesla conference call that “full self-driving is obviously getting better very rapidly.”
A 2016 video that Musk promoted on Twitter as evidence that “Tesla drives itself” was staged to show capabilities like stopping at a red light that the system did not have, according to testimony by a senior engineer first reported by Reuters earlier this month.
Regulators are examining if Autopilot’s design and claims about its capabilities provide users a false sense of security, leading to complacency behind the wheel with possibly fatal results.
Acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) chief Ann Carlson said this month the agency is “working really fast” on the Tesla Autopilot investigation it opened in August 2021 that she termed “very extensive.” In June, NHTSA upgraded to an engineering analysis its defect probe into 830,000 Tesla vehicles with Autopilot, a step that was necessary before the agency could demand a recall.
Autopilot is designed to assist with steering, braking, speed and lane changes. The function currently requires active driver supervision and does not make the vehicle autonomous. Tesla separately sells the $15,000 full self-driving (FSD) software as an add-on that enables its vehicles to change lanes and park autonomously.
The automaker’s shares rose 2% in early trading.
The Wall Street Journal reported in October that the Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting a civil investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot statements, citing sources.
Tesla also forecast Tuesday capital expenditure between $7 billion and $9 billion in 2024 and 2025. The midpoint of that expectation is $1 billion higher than the $6.00 billion to $8.00 billion range provided for this year.
GRAPHIC: Tesla increases capital spending as it ramps up production (https://www.reuters.com/graphics/TESLA-SPENDING/egpbyakgbvq/chart_eikon.jpg)
Some of the spending will go toward a $3.6 billion expansion of its Nevada Gigafactory complex, where Tesla will mass produce its long-delayed Semi truck and build a plant for the 4680 cell that would be able to make enough batteries for 2 million light-duty vehicles annually.
Tesla said it recorded an impairment loss of $204 million on the bitcoin it holds, while booking a gain of $64 million from converting the token into fiat currency.
Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin were hammered last year as rising interest rates and the collapse of major industry players such as crypto exchange FTX shook investor confidence.
(Reporting by Akash Sriram in Bengaluru, David Shepardson and Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Bernadette Baum)