Tesla’s ‘special code’ for crash testing raises eyebrows

An American Tesla-hacker called Green has unveiled that Tesla embeds special codes in its software related to the official crash tests conducted by safety organizations. It is not precisely confirmed what this special code accomplishes, but reportedly, it is related to the automatic driving functions, not the barrier tests themselves.

The news broke when Green tweeted: “Tesla just added ANCAP support in their code”. ANCAP is the Australian equivalent to Euro NCAP and the American NHTSA. In a reaction, Australian media got alarmed and asked whether Tesla was optimizing the test models. Unfortunately, the carmaker hasn’t reacted yet.

Alarm bells

The tweet unveiled that Tesla uses special codes for Euro NCAP, Korea NCAP, ANCAP, and Ivista. Green doesn’t reveal – or knows precisely – what the code does but acknowledges it has something to do with automated driving. According to the hacker, the software code installs ‘non-visible settings on the autopilot side’.

The presence of the software code immediately started ringing some alarm bells. While Tesla is currently in real talks with Euro NCAP on the issue, a spokesperson of the safety organization confirmed to Newmobility.news that, as for now, nothing points at Tesla bending the rules.

‘So far, no evidence’

The program director for Euro NCAP, Aled Williams: “Euro NCAP is investigating the findings on Twitter about the code found in the control modules of its Tesla test vehicles. So far, no evidence has been found of any attempt to ‘cheat’ the tests. Additional information is being sought from Tesla regarding the rollout of various software versions on all of its cars, specifically about Euro NCAP’s assessments. Those discussions and Euro NCAP’s own investigations are ongoing.”

The question remains if the cars can automatically detect if they are performing a testing or homologation situation, as was the case with the so-called cheating devices in dieselgate. But, again, this is something the carmaker should be transparent about.

Euro NCAP wouldn’t confirm if they spotted the presence of a special Tesla code triggered during the crashes. However, it does point out that carmakers remain in the blind on which VIN numbers eventually are used by their engineers.

Last-minute changes

“It is allowed for carmakers to send in last-minute adjustments before the crash tests via over-the-air updates. As was the case with Polestar, for example,” said Donna Hovsepian, spokesperson for Euro NCAP. As long as the vehicle is ultimately the same as the one delivered to the customer, these changes comply with the protocol of the safety organization.

As a rule, Tesla performs very well in the NCAP crash tests all over the world. Adding to that reputation was the Berlin-built Model Y, which obtained a record score (under the new methodology) in Euro NCAP’s last round. Those results date from last week. With almost perfect scores for adult protection (97%) and Safety Assist (98%), the compact SUV followed in the footsteps of previously strong performers like the Model X.

On the other hand, Tesla’s real-life safety performance is a worry for the company, especially concerning automated driving, to which the code refers. The Full-Self Driving feature, more specifically the allegedly misleading publicity around it, has been the motive for several court cases. Tesla won two of them in Germany and now faces additional ones in California with a new class action lawsuit filed this week.

 

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