Another day, another example shitty behavior from a big, popular company. This time it’s Tesla who basically shut down autopilot for a purchaser who picked up a used car.
Let’s explore what happened and why it sucks.
Here are the facts as reported by Jalopnik:
- Tesla bought back a car under lemon law.
- They sold it with Enhanced Autopilot (AP) and Full Self Driving (FSD) options to a dealer on 11/15/2019
- These options were listed on the Monroney sticker, a legally required sticker that lists options the car is equipped with and their price breakdown.
- The dealer sold it with those options to a customer on 12/20/2019. The customer saw on the car’s touchscreen that it had those options equipped.
- In January 2020, the customer took it to a Tesla service center for a few complaints, one of which was, “Summon feature disappeared – did a software update… and now I have the Autosteer option only”
- The January invoice notes that Summon “requires FSD to function. AP was removed on 11/18/19 after it was found customer did not purchase the software.”
Tesla sold a vehicle with features listed on the sticker, and then removed those features after the sale. The removal took effect when the software update took place.
Had Tesla wanted to remove the feature, they should have done it when they still owned the car, and issued an updated Monroney sticker.
Removing features when they had sold the car and explaining it was because the “customer did not purchase the software” is ridiculous.
Software licensing came to be this way because software companies came up with the fiction that you didn’t purchase the software, you purchased physical media and a license to use the software – and that the license moved with the customer, not the computer it was installed on.
But unless Tesla lets customers buy AP and FSD and take those features with them when they trade in or purchase new cars, the practice breaks down. If the features are only associated with the vehicle, not the customer, then removing the feature is wrong, and essentially stealing something of worth that the customer paid for at time of sale.
This isn’t the first time Tesla has removed features from used cars – a Reddit thread shows that it happened similarly in August 2019, although in that case, Tesla removed it prior to the customer purchasing the used car, and the customer discovered it by looking up the original Monroney sticker via the VIN.
A popular Marc Andreesen refrain from a few years ago was, “software is eating the world,” and Tesla uses this to its advantage.
Tesla uses the same batteries between models, and artificially limits cars it sells at lower cost from using the full range of the battery. Range can be unlocked for a one-time fee.
Tesla used to give away the ability to use their fast Supercharger charge points for free, and has since moved to charging for Supercharging. Cars that were purchased with it for free continued to supercharge – except when Tesla decides they don’t, stranding a family without any way to recharge the car to get home.
This is the problem with treating a physical good (car) like a software product – you don’t own the options you’ve paid for, if they can be taken away unpredictably.
As a manufacturer, you don’t want to convince your customers to avoid updates, because it means that they’ll miss out on any safety and security improvements you make.
For years, people suspected Apple’s iOS updates slowed down their iPhones – and they were right – people who had expired batteries couldn’t run the CPU at full speed, so Apple chose to run the phone slower to prevent unexpected shutdowns. The problem was that they did so without telling people for a very long time, and reinforced people’s suspicions that Apple was making their phones slow to push them to upgrade to new phones. Making people suspicious of your updates is not good business.
If you wanted to tank resale value on Tesla cars, discourage people from being confident they could buy one knowing what the sticker says they’ve paid for is accurate, and slow down the move to EV overall, this might be a good way to do it.
This idea that you don’t own a feature you’ve paid for, one that doesn’t rely on a subscription service, is offensive.
The idea that Tesla can take paid-for options back at will and say “they weren’t paid for even though we sold the car with that enabled” is wrong.
With my old gas-powered car, I can work on it without permission from the manufacturer. (I admit, working with the CANBUS communications in the car has been interesting.) I can fuel up without permission from the manufacturer. Tesla thinks of this as –their– car, even after sale, and that’s wrong.