At the the The Doan Law Firm, our staff routinely monitors both the print and electronic media for news reports suggesting the previously unreported or "under-reported" presence of a potential defect in popular consumer products. In today's post we report on a recent accident involving a Tesla Model S that, according to its driver, suddenly accelerated before winding up in a Shanghai, China river. Whether or not this accident happened exactly as reported is not our issue. Instead, we call attention to how it was "reported" by a website that appears to be nothing more than a Tesla marketing operation.
How the Accident Happened
The following account of the incident is paraphrased from an online article written by a "Xiaochun" who "talks about things" on what seems to be a blog hosted at Baidu.com and reprinted (in part) at electrek.co in a post entitled "Tesla crashes into river, owner claims it accelerated on its own".
On the morning of March 7th Xiao Chen and his wife ran some errands and then drove their car, a Tesla Model S, to a recharging station in the Qingpu District of Shanghai, China. Although Xiao Chen stated that he was in complete control of the car when he entered the recharging station, he also insisted that the vehicle suddenly accelerated even though he had not pressed the vehicle's accelerator pedal. The sudden acceleration caused the vehicle to crash through several "signs" and a railing before coming to a stop in the river that runs adjacent to the station. Fortunately, Xiao Chen and his passenger were able to exit the vehicle via its windows and were not injured.
When investigators (and the press) arrived, Xiao Chen continued to insist that the vehicle had suddenly accelerated "on its own." Witnesses to the accident, and video from the station's security cameras, confirmed his account of the accident with one additional observation: while the vehicle was accelerating, its brake lights were "on," which would indicate that Xiao Chen's foot was on the brake pedal rather than on the accelerator.
The original Baidu.com post then concludes with the usual "pending investigation" statements and video footage of Xiao Chen recounting his experience to the local news media.
In the media, and on a scale of 1 to 10, a one-vehicle accident with no injuries would have a "news interest factor" of "0" and would have gone unnoticed by anyone other than the owner and the owner's insurance company. This leads us to ask what, of all the traffic accidents that must have occurred in China that day, made this accident worthy of mention by electrek.co?
Autonomous Vehicle Accident
We begin by first noting that reports of vehicles that suddenly and unintentionally accelerated are not new and can be found as early as the 1982-1987 model years of the Audi 5000 (US, elsewhere "100" or "500"), where sudden acceleration was linked to some 700 accidents and 6 deaths. Since that time there have been additional events reported that involved Ford, Jeep, Toyota, Kia and, of course, Tesla products as well.
As mentioned previously, we became aware of this story when it was presented on elektrek.co. To a casual reader, the article would seem nothing more than a critical review of one man's account of an automobile accident. However, when we reviewed other content from the site's archives, we noticed that its writers consistently 1) praised the virtue of electric vehicles, particularly those vehicles whose name includes the word "Tesla" and 2) contempt for anyone, or anything, challenging the veracity of premise 1. This prompted us to take a closer look at elektrek.co.
According to the Wikipedia entry for "Electrek", the company is a "… US based news website dedicated to electric transportation and sustainable energy. Electrek is known for its extensive, positive coverage of Tesla … Its main authors have disclosed ownership of Tesla stock, substantial profit from referrals to Tesla, and ownership of Tesla cars." [Emphasis added] As further evidence that elektrek.co is essentially nothing more than a Tesla promotion site, we note that on October 4th 2017 the respected trade journal Automotive News published an article on its website under the heading "Electrek faces criticism for giving readers Tesla discount codes." That article states:
… Fred Lambert, editor-in-chief of electric vehicle blog Electrek, tweeted his personal Tesla referral code, giving Tesla customers a $1,000 discount on a new vehicle and free access to the Supercharger network. The tweet sparked criticism from automotive journalists who accused Lambert of crossing the line of unbiased coverage …
Lambert said the program benefits Tesla owners, which he is, and is not merely a way for the company to subsidize his coverage. Owners whose referral codes are used by new customers stand to receive free Tesla products, including premium wheels and a Powerwall 2 home battery.
Taking the above into consideration, we find it difficult to accept "news" from elektrek.co unless it can be "cross-checked" against other sources. Otherwise, we leave the matter of elektrek.co's "impartiality," or as a reliable news source, to the discretion of our readers.
For those wishing an objective review of news relating to electric and/or "driverless" vehicles, we invite you to visit The Doan Law Firm website regularly for additional coverage of events in this rapidly-evolving sector of the transportation industry.