Tesla told the agency this week that customers filed at least 18 warranty claims between the spring of 2019 and the fall of 2022, which correspond to the situations NHTSA highlighted by the agency.
The NHTSA filing says Tesla disagreed with the agency’s analyzes but agreed to go ahead with the recall anyway. The software defects will be fixed via over-the-air update “in the coming weeks,” the agency says, so drivers don’t have to bring their vehicles in for servicing. Tesla has not responded to a request for comment, and it’s unclear what changes the automaker will make to its full self-driving capability. (The company reportedly disbanded its press team in 2020.) But Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter tweeted that using the word “recall” to describe the update “is anachronistic and just plain wrong!”
Tesla’s Full Self-Driving feature isn’t actually “self-driving” as most people would understand it. Even Tesla calls it a “driver assistance” feature that’s in “beta” stages. The company’s documentation states that drivers must remain alert and ready to take over at all times.
The feature is designed to keep cars in a lane; make lane changes automatically; parallel park; and slow and stop for stop signs and traffic lights. Drivers have paid anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 for the “beta” feature. It was first released in 2020 to customers who Tesla said had proven safe and competent enough to test the software on public roads.
In late November, Tesla released the feature to anyone who paid for it. Some Tesla owners have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging fraud over the technology, citing Musk’s numerous promises that truly self-driving technology is just months away.
Tesla releases quarterly vehicle safety reports, which state that autopilot-equipped cars are far less likely to crash than the average American vehicle. However, this comparison does not take into account other variables that would make it clearer what role autopilot plays in accidents, including type and age of car (new and luxury vehicles like Teslas are involved in fewer accidents) and location (rural areas, where). Teslas are less popular, see more crashes on average). Federal data shows that Autopilot-equipped Tesla vehicles have been involved in at least 633 accidents since July 2021.
This is just Tesla’s latest run-in with the federal government. Investigations into collisions between first responders and vehicles on autopilot are ongoing. NHTSA also launched an investigation last year after receiving hundreds of driver complaints about the company’s vehicles displaying “phantom braking” on autopilot and suddenly stopping without warning or reason.
Some of Tesla’s interactions with the US government have been more pleasant. Just this week, the Biden administration announced that the company would join its effort to create a nationwide, public EV charging network by allowing drivers of other EVs to use a portion of its well-developed Supercharger network for the first Just.
The announcement marks a relaxation after years of permafrost between Musk and the White House. The CEO has argued that the government has not given Tesla proper credit for launching the US’s low-carbon vehicle electrification project; The government has resisted Tesla’s anti-union stance. The truce came in Musk’s love language: a tweet from the President.