Deadly accidents in ‘Chinese Tesla’ electric cars reignite controversy about their safety

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On August 14, a public account of the Chinese social network WeChat published an obituary of Lin Wenqin, a businessman who ran a chain of restaurants and other businesses. The message, signed by ‘Meiyihao’, said that the 31-year-old man died in an accident on a road in Fujian province, southeast China, on August 12, while driving his electric SUV Nio ES8. According to the obituary, the driver assistance function, or Navigate on Pilot (NOP), was enabled when the incident occurred.

This fatal case has reignited controversy about the safety of driver assistance systems, both in China and abroad. This time, the focus of attention is the company Nio, often regarded as the ‘Chinese Tesla’. Despite being one of the most advanced in the world in the development of electric cars, the company faces complaints in two fatal cases, including that of Lin.

Nio is among several automakers that have been affected by accidents associated with driver assistance systems. Recently, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it will open a safety investigation into the autopilot of Tesla cars, following a series of accidents involving those vehicles.

Accusations for data modification

In a statement issued Monday night, Nio said it “did not delete or modify any data” stored in Lin’s car after the accident. Nikkei. The statement came in response to reports from various media, which cited a lawyer representing the family of the deceased and asserts that a technician from that car company had been summoned by the Police after accessing the car without their approval.

“On the afternoon of August 13, Nio’s technical staff performed the first data extraction from the vehicle [después del accidente de tráfico], in front of Lin’s relatives and the Police, “the manufacturer said in his plea, adding that cooperate with the police investigation and will provide all the necessary materials.

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The company announced that it will not release information about the accident until the results of the investigation are published. According to that statement, Lin was killed when his car collided with another vehicle on the road.

Two different systems: driver assistance and autonomous driving

In October 2020, Nio launched its NOP technology which, as advertised, combines navigation, HD mapping and Nio Pilot, an advanced driver assistance system similar to Tesla’s autopilot and Xpeng’s Xpilot. The company then claimed that NOP can guide a vehicle along navigation routes in certain situations, such as to help the car choose the optimal lane at high speeds.

It should be noted that the company has also exposed the limitations of that technology. In an article posted on the company’s website, on the eve of NOP’s launch, Zhang Jianyong, Nio’s associate vice president of autonomous driving, highlighted the differences between NOP and true autonomous driving systems. The executive recalled that NOP cannot react to moving objects or traffic lights, and it also cannot be used in harsh weather conditions or complex roads.

“NOP remains a driver assistance feature that may stop working when certain conditions are not met. When using the feature, drivers must pay constant attention to changes in traffic conditions,” Zhang wrote.

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