US prosecutors are investigating whether Tesla Inc. has made misleading claims about the capabilities of the Autopilot driver assistance system, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The Justice Department's offices in Washington and San Francisco are investigating statements by the electric car maker and its executives about the ability of Tesla cars to drive themselves, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation. The Justice Department declined to comment, and Tesla officials did not respond to requests for comment on the investigation, which was first reported by Reuters.
Tesla faces increased safety scrutiny of its automated driving system by US regulators and is poised for its first trial in February over the death of a driver accused of using Autopilot. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the feature and is seeking answers from the company on how it monitors and enforces driver engagement and attention, including the use of in-car cameras.
The Justice Department's criminal investigation is ongoing and may not lead to charges. According to the person, the investigation started last year.
The criminal investigation into the Autopilot allegations is not the only ongoing Justice Department investigation involving Tesla or its executives, the person said.
This feature is now an essential part of the company's marketing materials and serving customer acquisition campaigns.
In June, CEO Elon Musk told the Tesla Owners Club that a fully self-driving technology solution "is really the difference between Tesla, which costs a lot of money and costs almost nothing."
Along with the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating Tesla's claims about its Autopilot system, the person said. SEC investigations can result in fines for companies or individuals the agency accuses of violating its rules.
The regulator declined to comment on the investigation, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on October 27.
Over the years, Musk and Tesla have taken over the securities regulator. In a high-profile case in 2018, Tesla's CEO agreed to pay a $20 million fine, step down as chairman, and delete future tweets on the automaker's in-flight monitor after the SEC investigated him for comments about plans to take the company private.