China court hears case over Tesla fatal crash

Father sues electric car maker over death of son said to be driving in Autopilot mode

BEIJING • The father of a Chinese man killed while driving a Tesla sedan has sued the US electric car maker over an alleged fault with its Autopilot system, the family's attorney said yesterday.

The court case comes as reports emerge that a Chinese security team had hacked a Tesla Model S and revealed several vulnerabilities in the luxury electric car.

Mr Gao Yaning, 23, died in January after his Tesla Model S slammed into a road-sweeping vehicle on a highway in the northern province of Hebei. His father Gao Jubin filed the case against the company in June, lawyer Cui Qiuna said.

The family believed the son was driving in Tesla's Autopilot mode and accused the firm of overstating the function's capabilities, she said. During the trial's opening session in Beijing on Tuesday, Mr Gao applied for an investigation into whether the Autopilot was activated when the accident occurred.

Mr Gao has demanded Tesla stop using the phrase "automatic driving" in its promotion of Autopilot, publicly apologise for false advertising and pay 10,000 yuan (S$2,000) in compensation for the family's grief over the son's death, Ms Cui said.

The embattled company was dealt another blow on Tuesday when CNBC reported hackers were able to gain access to a Tesla Model S by connecting to a malicious WiFi hotspot and then using the Web browser.

"Tesla has been contacting Mr Gao for a talk over reconciliation conditions but has yet to put forward a concrete solution," she said.

Tesla in August rephrased its description of the Autopilot system in some advertisements but "some of their staffers and their pamphlets are still using terms like 'automatic driving' ", Ms Cui said.

Tesla officials did not respond to a request by Agence France-Presse for comment yesterday.

The company has said the Autopilot system, introduced last year, is not a fully autonomous system and drivers are cautioned that they need to be at the wheel and in control. The system allows the vehicle to automatically change lanes, manage speed and brake to avoid a collision. The system may be overridden by the driver.

A Florida driver died in May after his car's Autopilot failed to detect a truck and collided with it.

Tesla said last week it was upgrading the software to use more advanced radar technology.

The embattled company was dealt another blow on Tuesday when CNBC reported that hackers were able to gain access to a Tesla Model S by connecting to a malicious WiFi hot spot and then using the Web browser.

Keen Security Labs, a unit at Chinese company Tencent, trumpeted the successful hack in a blog post.

"It is worth to note that we used an unmodified car with latest firmware to demonstrate the attack," the hackers wrote.

CNBC said Tencent has notified Tesla about the hacks, and that the car company has put a patch in place to fix the problem.

"Tesla has already deployed an over-the-air software update... that addresses the potential security issues," the company told CNBC. "Our realistic estimate is that the risk to our customers was very low, but this did not stop us from responding quickly." 

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'China court hears case over Tesla fatal crash'. Print Edition | Subscribe