Beijing Tesla Crash causes Tesla to rethink online terminology

Yet again, another Tesla Model S has been involved in a crash, this time in China. The incident has caused Tesla to remove the Chinese translation of “self-driving” from its China website after the driver involved complained about the producer’s claims.

The accident took place when the car collided with a stationary vehicle parked on the left side of a Beijing commuter highway. Luo Zhen, a 33-year-old programmer, stated that he had activated the “autopilot” feature of the model S during his regular commute when the vehicle collided with another vehicle half-parked on the road. The accident caused only light damage to the vehicles with no injuries to the drivers.

Whilst Luo Zhen’s accident is the first known crash in China, it is not the first crash regarding Tesla models. Since April 26, there have been seven crashes, of varying severity, reportedly linked to the Chinese translation of “autopilot” from Tesla’s intended meaning “semi-autonomous assisted driving”.

More recently in China, Tesla have come under further scrutiny after a fatal crash occurred, involving a Tesla model S and a street sweeping vehicle on a Beijing commuter highway. The accident killed 23-year-old Gao Yanjing, who’s family have reportedly sued Tesla over the incident, citing that the Autopilot failed to work as it was advertised.

Gao Yanjing’s car was too damaged for data to be taken regarding the Autopilot feature, so it is uncertain as to whether the “autopilot” feature was engaged. Tesla are reported to have tried to work with Gao Yanjing’s father to analyze the car, yet, to date, he has not provided any extra information.

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From Tesla's website: Autopilot mode explained

From Tesla’s website: Autopilot mode explained


Chinese translation. Tesla removed the Chinese for “self-driving” from its website following the crash in August, but reinstated it shortly after

Source: and

Chinese law states that drivers must keep both hands on the steering wheel at all times, and Tesla argues that the cars’ “autopilot” feature does not mean “self-driving”; the responsibility for maintaining control of the car is still the drivers at all times. Luo Zhen, who filmed his incident with a dashboard camera, is believed to not have had his hands on the steering wheel at the time of the crash. A Tesla spokesperson is quoted as saying that Luo Zhen’s hands were not located on the steering wheel during the collision and so he had not steered away from the parked car.

However, many have been quick to criticize the former vagueness of Tesla’s translation and terminology both on its website and the sales floor. Luo Zhen stated that he was given the impression that the car was self-driving as opposed to assisted driving.

The Chinese online social networking website Weibo has seen criticism from other owners of Tesla models, with some stating that their experiences when purchasing a Tesla car with “Autopilot” were similar; they were more inclined to believe that the car was “self-driving” than “assisted driving”. However, it must be noted that the Tesla system does implement safeguards and warns users to keep both hands on the steering wheel. If users ignore this warning, the car will come to a stop.

The term zidong jiashi, which had previously appeared many times on Tesla’s China website, more accurately translates to “self-driving”, a failure on the part of their Chinese translator.

In spite of these differences in translation, a spokesperson from Tesla said that they never stated the autopilot was autonomous or that the car was capable of self-driving and buyers should ignore third parties who state this.

Whatever the case, Tesla have found themselves changing the Chinese translation they use online in light of recent events.

Elon Musk aims to produce 500,000 cars per year in the future, ten-times Tesla’s current production output. Such a difference will turn Tesla from a company producing luxury vehicles, to one producing mainstream transportation.

However, with incidents like this fueling distrust and uncertainty towards the company in China, Tesla will have to ensure increasingly stricter standards, and be more careful when it comes to the terminology it uses if it hopes to achieve its goals.

Case in point, pick your Chinese translator carefully.


Article originally written for Indie Localizers by
Richard 言照賢, an Indie Localizers SEO for China region and a freelance translator