A series of complaints that Tesla vehicles suddenly accelerate without the driver pressing the accelerator is being reviewed by U.S. Regulators to determine whether a wider investigation into almost all of Tesla's vehicles is warranted. The Wall Street Journal reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration "received an emailed petition in December citing the complaints and requesting an investigation."
While the Journal report doesn't name the individual who first filed the complaint, a CNBC report says that an investor who has shorted Tesla's stock filed the formal complaint. That certainly is worth considering in terms of motivation, but the reality is that 127 Tesla owners have complained that their vehicles suddenly accelerated without any input from the driver.
As a result, safety regulators are considering whether to open an investigation into the safety of as many as 500,000 vehicles. That would encompass all of the vehicles the company has sold since the 2012 introduction of the Model S.
It's entirely possible that every single one of the 127 instances of unintended acceleration listed in the complaint is due to driver error. Tesla, for one, has said that the cases it reviewed showed that the driver applied pressure to the accelerator, as opposed to some kind of vehicle malfunction.
And these complaints, along with the possibility of a large-scale investigation don't mean Tesla's vehicles aren't really good. The Model S is the best car I've ever driven, and that was more than 6 years ago. They've gotten better since then. The Model 3, for example, is the best-selling electric car by a long shot and has been a huge success for the company.
At the same time, Tesla certainly receives a higher level of skepticism than other automakers. While incidents involving the company's vehicles are relatively rare, every time a Telsa battery catches fire, or one of its vehicles is in an accident while using its self-driving features, it makes headlines. It doesn't mean that Tesla's are any less safe, but it does contribute to a public perception that the cars can't quite be trusted.
Which, leads us to the fact that Tesla has an image problem. Whether it's the bold and brash over-promising CEO, or the fact that most people are still leery of electric vehicles (EVs), the reality is that Tesla has a ways to go before it convinces the masses to abandon their internal combustion vehicles.
Tesla fans may point out that the motivation behind the investigation is simply to cast the company in a bad light. While that could very well be true, that's also the reality of being a company trying shift in the way we produce cars and consume resources.
However, even if the cars are faster or better, most people prefer to stick with what is familiar, even if that's not in their best long term interests. The burden of persuading people to make a change is high, and it falls on those who are trying to sell that change. Every negative news story, every broken promise, and every inconvenient hoop to jump through contribute to a resistance to change.
That's why an investigation like this could be a huge problem for Tesla, no matter who initiated it or what their motivation may be. It's a problem because it simply reinforces for people what they already believe to be true--that Tesla's cars are promising but not reliable or safe enough for the average person.