Tesla might be scaring companies away from the term 'self-driving'

In a pointed shift, the 'Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets' is officially renaming its organization to the 'Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association.'

21 January 2020, Schleswig-Holstein, Nortorf: A Tesla stands after an accident in front of the destr...
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Tesla’s ongoing “Full Self-Driving” fiasco continues to literally and figuratively careen ahead with little regard to personal or public safety, and it’s beginning to affect more than just our roadways. In fact, the EV maker’s track record is so bad at the moment that it’s tainting the very term “self-driving” within the automotive industry.

As of today, the Washington lobbying group formerly known as the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets has been officially renamed to the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association. Founded in 2016 by an initial cadre including Ford, Volvo, Waymo, Uber, and Lyft, the organization has grown to include a number of other leaders within the autonomous vehicle (AV) industry, such as Cruise, Argo AI, and Nuro. To be clear, the AVIA didn’t call out Tesla by name in its decision to shift terminology, but even without pointing fingers the shift feels purposeful.

Pictured: Very much not a Tesla.picture alliance/picture alliance/Getty Images

Making clear the distinctions — Unlike certain other (unnamed) EV companies out there, the AVIA is defining an autonomous vehicle as performing “the entire driving task.” In contrast to something like, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving, “AVs do not require human operators, not even to serve as a backup driver; the people or packages in the vehicle are just passengers or freight.”

While this might read to some as potentially splitting hairs, the definition differences mean a lot to vehicle manufacturers as we head toward more truly autonomous vehicles on our roads. The AVIA wants federal regulatory bodies to know that when they describe their product as “autonomous,” they wholly mean it.

Autonomous is more than “self-driving” — Tesla is all about branding. The name “Full Self-Driving” implies sitting back and letting your car do the work for you, when it’s clear Elon Musk’s product is a very long way off from accomplishing such a feat. Although there have been some extremely impressive strides for truly autonomous vehicles, public and governmental reservations towards the technology abound due to situations like Tesla’s current debacle.

Instead of trying to reclaim the term “self-driving,” the AVIA appears to have decided to cede the term to Tesla while hoping to claim “autonomous” for itself. Unfortunately, if history has shown us anything, it’s that Elon Musk is more than willing to troll competitors to advance his own goals. We can all expect an “Autonomous Update” to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta in the next few months.