In a statement Monday, NHTSA spokesperson Veronica Morales said the probe will allow the agency to “further examine the process and technical data on which Zoox relied when certifying that a passenger vehicle it had produced met all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.”
“In particular,” she added, “NHTSA will consider the extent to which Zoox’s certification basis depended upon unilaterally developed test procedures or determinations that certain standards were inapplicable due to the unique configuration of the vehicle.”
Zoox certified in June 2022 that its robotaxi met all applicable federal safety standards. In September, NHTSA ordered Zoox to answer certain questions about its basis for certifying the vehicle. Zoox responded to the agency’s order in November, according to a NHTSA document.
Christopher Nalevanko, Zoox’s general counsel, said in a statement that the company remains confident in its self-certification process and data and that it is committed to working closely with NHTSA.
“Safety is foundational to Zoox. Given we are the first in the industry to self-certify a purpose-built robotaxi to the FMVSS, this is an expected next step for our regulatory journey,” he said in the statement. “As you’ll see in NHTSA’s request, there are no concerns, violations or accusations made by NHTSA regarding Zoox. This is a request to gain an additional level of details and information on the self-certification tests Zoox performed, which have met or exceeded applicable FMVSS performance requirements.”
Unlike a conventional car and the vehicles most other robotaxi developers are using, the Zoox vehicle lacks the steering wheel, brake pedal and other controls human drivers need.
Zoox started using the robotaxi last month to transport employees between two company offices in Foster City, Calif., after receiving a permit from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. To obtain the permit, Zoox self-certified that the EV met existing FMVSS, CEO Aicha Evans said.
Manufacturers can self-certify compliance. In some cases, NHTSA may scrutinize self-certifications to ensure they conform with the standards.
NHTSA does not preapprove or prohibit the introduction of new vehicles or technology as long as they comply with motor vehicle safety standards. Vehicles that do not comply can still be deployed but must first apply for an exemption.
Zoox did not apply for an exemption, nor did the company pursue other lesser-known regulatory avenues, such as exporting and importing vehicles. Nonetheless, Evans said there were “no limitations” on the company’s deployment, which to date involves a single robotaxi traveling a one-mile route between the Zoox buildings. Only employees are passengers.
The Zoox probe marks the fourth investigation by NHTSA into a self-driving tech company. Prior to the Zoox investigation, the agency opened a safety probe into the automated driving system in vehicles produced by General Motors’ Cruise unit and two probes into startup tech firm Pony.ai.
Automotive News’ Pete Bigelow contributed to this report.