DETROIT (AP) — More than 750 Tesla owners have complained to U.S. safety regulators that cars operating on the automaker's partially automated driving systems have suddenly stopped on roadways for no apparent reason.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed the number in a detailed information request letter to Tesla that was posted Friday on the agency's website.
The 14-page letter dated May 4 asks the automaker for all consumer and field reports it has received about false braking, as well as reports of crashes, injuries, deaths and property damage claims. It also asks whether the company's "Full Self Driving" and automatic emergency braking systems were active at the time of any incident.
The agency began investigating phantom braking in Tesla's Models 3 and Y last February after getting 354 complaints. The probe covers an estimated 416,000 vehicles from the 2021 and 2022 model years. In February, the agency said it had no reports of crashes or injuries.
The letter gives Tesla a deadline of June 20 to respond to the information request but says the company can ask for an extension.
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Shares of Tesla Inc. tumbled 7% at the opening bell.
A message was left early Friday seeking comment from Tesla.
In opening the probe, the agency said it was looking into vehicles equipped with automated driver-assist features such as adaptive cruise control and "Autopilot," which allows them to automatically brake and steer within their lanes.
"Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, and often repeatedly during a single drive cycle," the agency said.
Many owners wrote in their complaints that they feared a rear-end crash on a freeway.
In the letter, NHTSA asks for the initial speed of when the cars began to brake, the final speed, and the average deceleration. It also asks if the automated systems detected a target obstacle, and whether Tesla has video of the braking incidents.
The agency is now seeking information on warranty claims for phantom braking including the owners' names and what repairs were made. It's also seeking information on Tesla's sensors, any testing or investigations into the braking problems, or if any modifications were made.
The letter focuses on Tesla's testing of the automated systems when it comes to detecting metal bridges, s-shaped curves, oncoming and cross traffic, and different sizes of vehicles including large trucks. The agency also wants information on how cameras deal with reflections, shadows, glare and blockage due to snow or heavy rain.
The agency asks Tesla to detail its assessment of the "alleged defect" in the automated systems, including what caused the unnecessary braking, what failed, and the risk to motor vehicle safety that the problem poses. It asks Tesla "what warnings, if any, the operator and the other persons both inside and outside the vehicle would have that the alleged defect was occurring, or subject component was malfunctioning."
The probe is another in a string of enforcement efforts by the agency that include Autopilot and "Full Self-Driving" software. Despite their names, neither feature can drive the vehicles without people supervising.
It's the fourth formal investigation of the Texas automaker in the past three years, and NHTSA is supervising 23 Tesla recalls since January of 2021.
The agency also is investigating complaints that the automatic emergency braking systems on more than 1.7 million newer Hondas can stop the vehicles for no reason.
In addition, NHTSA has a broader probe under way into crashes involving partially automated driving systems from all automakers. Since 2016, the agency has sent teams to 34 crashes in which the systems were either in use or suspected of operating. Of the 34, 28 involved Teslas.
Fifteen people died in the crashes that NHTSA is investigating, and at least 15 more were hurt. Of the deaths, 14 occurred in crashes involving Teslas, agency documents say.
NHTSA also is investigating why Teslas on Autopilot have crashed into emergency vehicles parked on roads.
Tesla and CEO Elon Musk have been fighting with U.S. and California government agencies for years, sparring with NHTSA and most notably with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Musk has offered to buy Twitter for $44 billion and make it a private company, but says he has put the deal on hold because of allegations that the social media platform has more automated bot accounts than it has disclosed.
5 fuel-efficient SUVs to help you save at the pump
2022 Ford Escape Hybrid
Offered in both conventional and plug-in hybrid variations, the 2022 Ford Escape is one the most fuel-efficient small SUVs you can buy. The standard hybrid earns an EPA-estimated 41 mpg combined (44 city/37 highway), giving it a total potential maximum range of 582 miles.
The plug-in hybrid returns 40 combined mpg and supplements its efficiency with 37 miles of electric-only operation. That means those with shorter commutes and convenient charging options may rarely need to use fuel.
Regardless of configuration, the Ford Escape Hybrid boasts a comfortable cabin, a compliant ride and sufficient power. A couple of drawbacks are its smaller than average cargo capacity and air conditioner that doesn't quite get super cold on hot days.
Starting price: $30,415
2022 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Like the Escape, Toyota's RAV4 is offered in both hybrid and plug-in flavors. The conventional hybrid nets 40 combined mpg (41 city/38 highway) for a total max range of 580 miles. The RAV4 Prime PHEV scores 38 combined mpg and a class-leading 42-mile all-electric range. Better still, the Prime is downright quick with 302 horsepower and a 0 to 60 mph sprint of just 5.6 seconds.
Other highlights of the 2022 RAV4 Hybrid include a roomy cabin, plenty of cargo space and standard all-wheel drive. Drivers will be less enthused with a somewhat awkward brake feel and the infotainment system's dated-looking graphics.
Starting price: $30,290
Hyundai Tucson hybrid
The Hyundai Tucson small SUV is fully redesigned for 2022. In addition to distinctive new styling and features, Hyundai has added hybrid powertrains to the Tucson's portfolio. Rated at 38 combined mpg (38 city/38 highway), and slightly less on higher trims, the standard hybrid can travel up to an estimated 521 miles on a single tank. Alternatively, the plug-in model returns 35 combined mpg and offers 33 miles of all-electric range.
Spacious, pleasant-riding and quick, the Hyundai Tucson is currently Edmunds' highest-rated hybrid SUV. Fuel economy and electric range lag slightly behind close competitors, but Hyundai's class-leading warranty provides extra ownership assurance.
Starting price: $30,595.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Thankfully, those requiring a third row of seating aren't doomed to bad gas mileage. The 2022 Toyota Highlander Hybrid touts class-leading fuel economy of 36 mpg combined (36 city/35 highway), for a total range of 616 miles. Toyota's modest upcharge over the base Highlander and lower starting price than rivals keep the Hybrid attainable.
The Highlander Hybrid is easy to maneuver and smooth-riding, and it includes a full suite of driver aids as standard. Taller riders will have a tight squeeze in the third row and cargo space behind that row is constrained, though the total cabin volume is competitive.
Starting price: $40,270
2022 Tesla Model Y
The only thing better than fuel sipping is fuel abstinence. Tesla's Model Y Long Range serves up to 330 miles of electric range on a full charge. In our own range testing, we've found the Model Y underperforms its EPA estimate a little, but it's still one of the best SUVs available for going the distance. With overnight top-ups via a Level 2 charger, or stops at a Tesla Supercharger station, most drivers will never experience range anxiety and can happily ignore lofty fuel prices.
The Model Y is quick and cavernous, and it offers cutting-edge technology. Its inconsistent build quality and uninspiring design have opened the door for new challengers, however.
Starting price: $64,440
A burgeoning electric vehicle market and compelling hybrid options give consumers a variety of ways to beat the prices at the pump. But keep in mind that amid a vehicle shortage and rising fuel costs, these cars may be even harder to find or may carry premiums at dealers.