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Advertising Comparison: Tesla Autopilot vs. GM Super Cruise

Tesla keeps coming under fire regarding its Autopilot feature and how it is marketed or presented. I wanted to dive into this with a comparison I’ve seen floating around on Twitter. That comparison is between Tesla Autopilot and GM Super Cruise. You can see in the images below how each company with their driver-assist features are driving.

In Jeff’s tweet above, he shared a clear difference between how the vehicles and their driving software are presented. In Tesla’s case, the driver has their hands on the wheel. This is a common instruction that Tesla gives drivers when they are using Autopilot — and Tesla has a built-in feature, called a nag, that will alert the driver until they put their hands back on the wheel. This safety feature is in place so that if for some reason Autopilot disengages or the driver sees a need to disengage, they can quickly take over. Yes, there are ways to trick the system. But at that point, the blame for any issues is clearly on the driver.

In the second image is a photo from GM’s press kit showing a happy customer driving hands-free. You can clearly see the driver with their hands on their lap as the vehicle is in motion. Yet there is no media uproar over GM advertising a self-driving car.

In the tweet above, @AMuchBetterFace also compared GM’s images against the criticisms of Elon Musk demonstrating Tesla’s Autopilot for Leslie Stahl during a “60 Minutes” interview. Naturally, Elon Musk was accused of abusing Tesla’s Autopilot by several critics and Wired cited the dangers of Autopilot and included an interview with Missy Cummongs, a researcher on human and autonomous vehicle interaction at Duke University. Cummings said, “This is why it’s so dangerous. One of the things we know for sure is humans will immediately start not paying attention as soon as the car is doing a good enough job.”

True, humans will abuse things. However, I believe that this criticism of Tesla is highly unjust especially since other automakers have some type of driver-assist software and when you look at how GM is advertising Super Cruise, for example, there’s extensive implication from the automaker itself that the software will drive for you.  I mean, why else would you have your hands off the wheel and be getting some peanuts from the passenger without looking at the road?

Tesla’s Autopilot has been accused of killing people in several articles over the years, but in essence, each case has been narrowed down to the fact that the driver was simply not paying attention to the nags or to the road — drivers not using the system as it’s supposed to be used. Separate from this but at the same time at the corporate level, Tesla is working on Full-Self Driving improvements aimed at preventing these types of accidents completely.

Perhaps this is why Tesla gets so much criticism for Autopilot. Tesla is actively working on solving the AI challenges to offer true autonomy, not just provide better and better driver-assist technology (as it does now).

Going “Hands-Free” With Super Cruise

Just last week, TechSpot published an article about going hands-free with GM’s Super Cruise. The author of the article tested out the “hands-free driving technology” as it was called and noted that Super Cruise is currently the only hands-free driving technology. In essence, they might be correct. Tesla has never advertised Autopilot as hands-free.

The author of the article reminded their readers that Tesla has stated before that Autopilot is “intended for use only with a fully attentive driver who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time,” and noted that it does a pretty good job despite frequently asking its drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and to pay attention.

In 2020, Car and Driver called Super Cruise a truly hands-free experience, yet recently, the same publication noticed flaws that could actually kill if the driver wasn’t paying attention. That article pointed out that the biggest problem is unpredictable humans. The author drove over 380 miles on I-95 and Super Cruise drove for 346 of those miles. It also canceled out 25 times.

In the opening paragraph of his article, the writer described a common scenario: traffic flowing smoothly. Then suddenly a there’s glimpse of flashing blue lights — a situation where you have to react quickly. The vehicle reacts.

“I mean, panic-stop abruptly, and for no discernable reason — slows from 70 mph to roughly 15 mph.”

The Escalade was doing the driving with Super Cruise up to that point, but then the driver decided that he needed to take over.

“I’m touching neither pedals nor steering wheel. And in fact, the Escalade initiates its own braking when the car ahead slows down. But I can see the two cars ahead of that going nose-down under hard braking, so I intervene and mash the brakes preemptively while doing two other things: eyeing the emergency lane to my left, in case I run out of room, and checking the rearview mirror to see if anyone behind me is running out of room—in which case, I’d also ditch to the emergency lane. And I nearly do, right about the time I see the 18-wheeler three cars back start to jackknife, brakes locked and smoke pouring off its tires. What’s your move, here, Super Cruise?”

Fortunately, the author of that article is perfectly fine and was able to avoid getting into an accident, but what if he didn’t react and the SUV got hit from behind? Would it be Super Cruise’s fault or the semi truck’s fault? If this all happened in a Tesla and the Tesla was hit, we know for sure who many in the media would blame.

First, this isn’t an attack on GM or Tesla but merely an observation. Criticizing Tesla for “killing people” while overlooking the numerous lives saved with Autopilot engaged and while ignoring the fact that other automakers are advertising their driver-assist technologies as hands-free, verbally and through imagery, is not the right move.

From several articles I’ve read about Super Cruise, one could gather that you can get in, activate it, and the car drives itself. In contrast, Tesla’s Autopilot is cool but could kill you — again, that’s just how it’s presented, despite very similar capabilities.

Autonomous driving is coming eventually. Whether the winner of that race is Tesla or another company isn’t as relevant as the lives that will be spared from dangerous driving and from humans not having all the “eyes” and reaction capabilities of a well equipped and trained autonomous driving system. Once autonomy is mastered, we humans will be the winners of that race. This should be celebrated, shouldn’t it?

 
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Written By

Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok

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