The DOJ is looking into Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving claims

The rumors of Tesla facing a Justice Department investigation were true. The EV designer has confirmed in an SEC filing that the DOJ has requested documents linked to Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) features. Tesla says that no government body has determined "wrongdoing" as part of an active investigation, but warns that enforcement could have a "material adverse impact" on its business.

Tesla didn't detail the nature of the request, and doesn't usually comment on issues since disbanding its communications team. We've asked the DOJ for comment. However, it comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated 35 crashes where Autopilot or FSD was reportedly involved, including collisions with emergency vehicles. California's DMV and other officials have accused Tesla of falsely suggesting that its cars are truly driverless when even FSD frequently requires intervention. The state DMV and the NHTSA are worried Tesla drivers might grow complacent and fail to take evasive action when necessary.

The brand has issued mixed messages on its cars' abilities. While Tesla's support site make clear that Autopilot and FSD don't represent complete autonomy and require a "fully attentive driver," the FSD marketing page claims that you'll only need to "tell your car where to go." Company chief Elon Musk has long promised that true self-driving is just around the corner, but mentioned in October 2022 that Tesla was "not saying it's quite ready" to go driverless. FSD remains in beta, although it's now open to anyone who has paid to unlock the functionality.

The DOJ investigation comes as Tesla and its leadership face mounting scrutiny over their practices. Musk is embroiled in a shareholder lawsuit over his tweets about taking Tesla private. The National Labor Relations Board recently accused Tesla of breaking the law by asking Florida staff to keep quiet about pay and a firing. There are also lingering questions about build quality following a string of recalls. Tesla is facing growing pressure to alter its practices, and potential DOJ charges are just the latest concern.

Ford slashes Mustang Mach-E prices by up to $5,900

Ford has slashed prices of its Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle by up to eight percent (as much as $5,900), with the extended-range battery dropping in price by around 19 percent. The entry-level models are now around $600 to $900 less expensive, according to Reuters, which reported that people who are currently waiting for Ford to deliver a Mach-E will receive the price cut automatically.

At least one variant is again eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit, which applies to EVs that have an MSRP of $55,000 or less. SUVs, vans and pickup trucks are eligible for the credit if they have a maximum MSRP of $80,000, but the Internal Revenue Service does not class the Mach-E as an SUV.

In August, Ford increased the price of the Mach-E for new orders by between around $2,600 and $8,000 compared with the 2022 trims. The company attributed the price hikes to "significant material cost increases, continued strain on key supply chains and rapidly evolving market conditions." However, it seems those issues have abated somewhat.

"At Ford, we want to make EVs more accessible, so we’re increasing Mustang Mach-E production and reducing prices across the Mach-E lineup," Ford CEO Jim Farley wrote on Twitter. "Scaling will shorten customer wait times. And with higher production, we’re reducing costs, which allows us [to] share these savings with customers."

Ford built 78,000 Mach-E vehicles in 2022. It hopes to ramp up production to an annual run rate of 270,000 by the end of this year. The company is aiming to reach a total EV production rate of 600,000 by late 2023 with the help of new lithium iron phosphate battery packs.

The move comes after Tesla slashed the prices of its EVs by up to 20 percent earlier this month. The five-seat Model Y Long Range became eligible for the tax credit after the cut, meaning that it's now $20,500 (over 30 percent) less expensive.

San Francisco asks California regulators to halt or slow the rollout of driverless taxis

San Francisco city officials have sent letters to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asking to slow or halt the expansion of Cruise and Waymo robotaxi services in the city, NBC News has reported. San Francisco Transportation Authority (SFTA) officials wrote that unlimited expansion would be "unreasonable" in light of recent safety incidents in which vehicles blocked traffic and interfered with emergency vehicles. 

Alphabet's Waymo and Cruise, owned by GM, both operate fully driverless services (without backup drivers) in the city. Last June, Cruise gained permission to charge for rides in set areas of the city between the hours of 10PM and 6AM. Waymo is allowed to give driverless vehicle rides but is waiting for another permit before it can charge for them. 

“A series of limited deployments with incremental expansions — rather than unlimited authorizations — offer the best path toward public confidence in driving automation and industry success in San Francisco and beyond,” the letter reads.

The services have had their challenges. A small fleet of Cruise robotaxis in San Francisco suddenly stopped operating on a street in the city's Fillmore district, blocking traffic for several hours. Another Cruise vehicle was pulled over by confused cops and then promptly went on the lam. The NTSA recently opened a probe into Cruise's self-driving vehicles over hard braking, traffic blocking and other issues. 

In one as yet unreported incident, Cruise vehicles also reportedly interfered with emergency responders. Firefighters had to smash the window one of the company's robotaxis to prevent it from running over a firehose, according to the letter. 

However, Cruise pointed out that the service has been safe so far. "Cruise’s safety record is publicly reported and includes having driven millions of miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

The letters may have been prompted by Cruise's stated plans to operate its robotaxi service 24 hours a day rather than just at night. It's been approved for that by the California DMV, but is waiting on permission from the CPUC. (Both companies also operate driverless ride services in Phoenix, and Cruise's self-driving taxis are available in Austin, Texas as well.)

The SFTA isn't against the 24/7 expansion, but has requested more data like how often and for how long Cruise's vehicles block traffic. It also wants robotaxis to stay off primary routes during rush hour until they prove they can operate "without significant interruption of street operations and transit services."

Ford recalls 462,000 SUVs over rearview camera issue

Ford has issued a recall for 462,000 vehicles worldwide over the possibility that their rearview cameras could suffer from faulty video output. According to the Associated Press and Reuters, the recall covers some 2020 to 2023 model Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators, as well as a bunch of 2020 to 2022 model Lincoln Corsairs. The affected vehicles come with 360-degree cameras that display live view footage on the in-car entertainment touchscreen console. The majority of the affected cars — over 382,000 — are in the US. 

According to a document (PDF) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency contacted Ford in late 2021 about allegations that the live view camera was showing a blue image instead of what was happening outside. That came after an earlier recall in 2021 for the same problem. Ford worked with suppliers to analyze those reports, but it wasn't until December 2022 that the automaker was able to replicate the issue in the laboratory and in-vehicle, which is most likely why Ford has only issued a recall now. 

Apparently, 2,115 warranty reports had been submitted about this issue as of November 30th, 2022. Also, the automaker is aware of 17 minor accidents that allegedly occurred due to the vehicles' rear camera blue screen problem, but it hasn't heard of any injuries. Reuters said even the vehicles that were recalled in 2021 are part of this recall, so dealers can also update their image processing module software.

Ford recalls 462,000 SUVs over rearview camera issue

Ford has issued a recall for 462,000 vehicles worldwide over the possibility that their rearview cameras could suffer from faulty video output. According to the Associated Press and Reuters, the recall covers some 2020 to 2023 model Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators, as well as a bunch of 2020 to 2022 model Lincoln Corsairs. The affected vehicles come with 360-degree cameras that display live view footage on the in-car entertainment touchscreen console. The majority of the affected cars — over 382,000 — are in the US. 

According to a document (PDF) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency contacted Ford in late 2021 about allegations that the live view camera was showing a blue image instead of what was happening outside. That came after an earlier recall in 2021 for the same problem. Ford worked with suppliers to analyze those reports, but it wasn't until December 2022 that the automaker was able to replicate the issue in the laboratory and in-vehicle, which is most likely why Ford has only issued a recall now. 

Apparently, 2,115 warranty reports had been submitted about this issue as of November 30th, 2022. Also, the automaker is aware of 17 minor accidents that allegedly occurred due to the vehicles' rear camera blue screen problem, but it hasn't heard of any injuries. Reuters said even the vehicles that were recalled in 2021 are part of this recall, so dealers can also update their image processing module software.

Mercedes is the first certified Level-3-autonomy car company in the US

At CES earlier this January, Mercedes announced that it would become the first car company to achieve certification from the SAE for a Level 3 driver assist system. That became official on Thursday when the automaker confirmed its Drive Pilot ADAS (automated driver assist system) now complies with the requirements of Nevada Chapter 482A, which governs the use of autonomous vehicle technology on the state's roads. That makes Drive Pilot the only legal Level 3 system in the US for the moment.

"An unwavering commitment to innovation has consistently guided Mercedes-Benz from the very beginning," Dimitris Psillakis, President and CEO of MBUSA, said in Thursday's press statement. "It is a very proud moment for everyone to continue this leadership and celebrate this monumental achievement as the first automotive company to be certified for Level 3 conditionally automated driving in the US market."

Level 3 capabilities, as defined by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), would enable the vehicle to handle "all aspects of the driving" when engaged but still need the driver attentive enough to promptly take control if necessary. That's a big step up from the Level 2 systems we see today such as Tesla's "Full Self-Driving," Ford's Blue Cruise, and GM's Super Cruise. All of those are essentially extra-capable highway cruise controls where the driver must maintain their attention on driving, typically keeping their hands on or at least near the wheel, and be responsible for what the ADAS is doing while it's doing it. That's a far cry from the Knight Rider-esque ADAS outlook Tesla is selling and what Level 2 autonomy is actually capable of.

Mercedes' Drive Pilot system can, "on suitable freeway sections and where there is high traffic density," according to the company, take over the bumper-to-bumper crawling duties up to 40 MPH without the driver needing to keep their hands on the wheel. When engaged, the system handles lane-keeping duties, stays with the flow of traffic, navigates to destinations programmed into the Nav system, and will even react to "unexpected traffic situations and handles them independently, e.g. by evasive maneuvers within the lane or by braking maneuvers."

To perform these feats, the Drive Pilot system relies on a suite of sensors embedded throughout the vehicle including visual cameras, LiDAR arrays, radar and ultrasound sensors, and audio mics to keep an ear out for approaching emergency vehicles. The system even compares its onboard sensor data with what it is receiving from its GPS to ensure it knows exactly where on the road it actually is. 

Drive Pilot is only available on the 2024 S-Class and EQS Sedan for now. Those are already in production and the first cars should reach the Vegas strip in the second half of this year. 

Mercedes is the first certified Level-3-autonomy car company in the US

At CES earlier this January, Mercedes announced that it would become the first car company to achieve certification from the SAE for a Level 3 driver assist system. That became official on Thursday when the automaker confirmed its Drive Pilot ADAS (automated driver assist system) now complies with the requirements of Nevada Chapter 482A, which governs the use of autonomous vehicle technology on the state's roads. That makes Drive Pilot the only legal Level 3 system in the US for the moment.

"An unwavering commitment to innovation has consistently guided Mercedes-Benz from the very beginning," Dimitris Psillakis, President and CEO of MBUSA, said in Thursday's press statement. "It is a very proud moment for everyone to continue this leadership and celebrate this monumental achievement as the first automotive company to be certified for Level 3 conditionally automated driving in the US market."

Level 3 capabilities, as defined by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), would enable the vehicle to handle "all aspects of the driving" when engaged but still need the driver attentive enough to promptly take control if necessary. That's a big step up from the Level 2 systems we see today such as Tesla's "Full Self-Driving," Ford's Blue Cruise, and GM's Super Cruise. All of those are essentially extra-capable highway cruise controls where the driver must maintain their attention on driving, typically keeping their hands on or at least near the wheel, and be responsible for what the ADAS is doing while it's doing it. That's a far cry from the Knight Rider-esque ADAS outlook Tesla is selling and what Level 2 autonomy is actually capable of.

Mercedes' Drive Pilot system can, "on suitable freeway sections and where there is high traffic density," according to the company, take over the bumper-to-bumper crawling duties up to 40 MPH without the driver needing to keep their hands on the wheel. When engaged, the system handles lane-keeping duties, stays with the flow of traffic, navigates to destinations programmed into the Nav system, and will even react to "unexpected traffic situations and handles them independently, e.g. by evasive maneuvers within the lane or by braking maneuvers."

To perform these feats, the Drive Pilot system relies on a suite of sensors embedded throughout the vehicle including visual cameras, LiDAR arrays, radar and ultrasound sensors, and audio mics to keep an ear out for approaching emergency vehicles. The system even compares its onboard sensor data with what it is receiving from its GPS to ensure it knows exactly where on the road it actually is. 

Drive Pilot is only available on the 2024 S-Class and EQS Sedan for now. Those are already in production and the first cars should reach the Vegas strip in the second half of this year. 

NYC wants all Uber and Lyft cars to be electric by 2030

It might not be long before every ridesharing car in New York City is electric. Mayor Eric Adams has outlined an agenda that will require "high-volume for-hire" vehicles at Uber, Lyft and similar companies to be zero-emissions by 2030. There will be "no new costs" for drivers, the administration says. The initiative would build on the city's plans to electrify its own fleet.

Adams didn't detail how this transition would take place. The Vergenotes that the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which already regulates NYC ridesharing, would likely be responsible for implementing the EV strategy.

At least some companies are already onboard with the idea. Uber "applaud[s]" Adams' plan, according to a statement, while Lyft says it's "excited" to work with the city. It's not a difficult target for them, however. Uber and Lyft were already planning to go completely electric by 2030. They also have programs in place to encourage EV adoption across the US, such as Uber's rentals through Hertz as well as Lyft's incentives. Pressure elsewhere might also leave services with little choice. California will require that most ride-hailing cars are EVs by 2030, for instance.

Drivers may face challenges, however. EVs are currently more expensive than their combustion engine counterparts, and workers may have trouble affording them even if the maintenance costs are ultimately lower. EV prices are declining, but it may be a while yet before they're truly affordable to a driver base struggling to improve pay.

There's also the question of infrastructure. A 2022 study led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that NYC would need over 1,000 150kW fast charging stations to adequately power 20,000 rideshare and taxi cars, even if 15 percent of drivers could top up overnight. The mayor's proposal would electrify "100,000-plus" rides — the city may need a major investment in charging facilities to make the switch.

NYC wants all Uber and Lyft cars to be electric by 2030

It might not be long before every ridesharing car in New York City is electric. Mayor Eric Adams has outlined an agenda that will require "high-volume for-hire" vehicles at Uber, Lyft and similar companies to be zero-emissions by 2030. There will be "no new costs" for drivers, the administration says. The initiative would build on the city's plans to electrify its own fleet.

Adams didn't detail how this transition would take place. The Vergenotes that the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which already regulates NYC ridesharing, would likely be responsible for implementing the EV strategy.

At least some companies are already onboard with the idea. Uber "applaud[s]" Adams' plan, according to a statement, while Lyft says it's "excited" to work with the city. It's not a difficult target for them, however. Uber and Lyft were already planning to go completely electric by 2030. They also have programs in place to encourage EV adoption across the US, such as Uber's rentals through Hertz as well as Lyft's incentives. Pressure elsewhere might also leave services with little choice. California will require that most ride-hailing cars are EVs by 2030, for instance.

Drivers may face challenges, however. EVs are currently more expensive than their combustion engine counterparts, and workers may have trouble affording them even if the maintenance costs are ultimately lower. EV prices are declining, but it may be a while yet before they're truly affordable to a driver base struggling to improve pay.

There's also the question of infrastructure. A 2022 study led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that NYC would need over 1,000 150kW fast charging stations to adequately power 20,000 rideshare and taxi cars, even if 15 percent of drivers could top up overnight. The mayor's proposal would electrify "100,000-plus" rides — the city may need a major investment in charging facilities to make the switch.

Audi’s Activesphere EV concept is built for off-roading and augmented reality

Audi has finally revealed the Activesphere EV concept it promised last summer. The crossover is built to go off-road, complete with a rugged underbody, a liftable suspension and easy ways to carry your sports gear. The rear can transform into a loading area with enough room for your e-bikes, for instance. It nonetheless features a sedan-like profile and the creature comforts of past concepts, including a spacious, bright interior designed for relaxing while the vehicle is in self-driving mode.

The cabin reflects Audi's confidence in augmented reality. Occupants wear AR glasses that provide vital performance figures (for the driver) as well as infotainment and virtual assistant controls. You won't find a conventional row of screens or gauges, and the eyewear can even track your health while you ride an e-bike on a trail. When you're ready to take control, the dash and steering wheel lift into place. Audi clearly expects you to only occasionally take the helm, such as when you're venturing beyond asphalt.

Most specifications aren't available (this is a concept, after all). However, Audi claims a range of more than 372 miles and fast 270kW charging using an 800V architecture. The 100kWh battery pack can charge from 5 percent to 80 percent in 25 minutes, Audi says.

This is the fourth model in Audi's "sphere" electric concept line. The company kicked off the initiative with the shapeshifting Skysphere roadster in August 2021, and followed that a month later with the upscale Grandsphere sedan. Last year's Urbansphere was intended as the SUV for future cities, where your car is as much an office (or a refuge from the outside world) as it is transportation.

As with past experiments, the Activesphere isn't a preview of a production model. It's Audi's vision of motoring in the near future, not to mention a demonstration of technical prowess. It's just a matter of whether or not the concept influences future cars. Audi has played it relatively safe with its existing EV lineup, which largely revolves around familiar-looking SUVs and the Porsche Taycan's sibling, the e-tron GT. The brand expects to dramatically expand its electric offerings by 2026, though, so we wouldn't rule out Activesphere-inspired rides.