Customers looking at a Tesla Motors Inc. Model X electric car on display at the company’s showroom in Shanghai, China, on Tuesday, September 12, 2017.
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked Tesla in a letter Wednesday to recall 158,716 of its Model S and Model X vehicles manufactured by 201
The affected cars manufactured in Tesla’s Fremont, California, car complex include Tesla Model S sedans manufactured between 2012 and 2018 and Model X SUVs in model years from 2016 to 2018.
Tesla may refuse to make the recall, but will have to present a full explanation of why to the NHTSA, which may then propose further action. A recall of 158,716 vehicles represents about 10% of Tesla’s lifetime reported production by the end of 2020. Tesla produced its millionth electric vehicle in March 2020, tweeted CEO Elon Musk at the time, and in the last three quarters of 2020 the company produced more than 400,000 additional vehicles.
News of the letter was previously reported by Reuters.
The memory devices in some Tesla MCUs have a limited “write cycle”, which means that they – and therefore the media controller itself – do not work well or not at all after hitting a certain number of programs or erase cycles.
Owners of affected Tesla vehicles previously told CNBC that the display on their media controllers (or MCUs) would sometimes become blank, in whole or in part. Touch screen issues disrupted drivers’ ability to use heating, air conditioning, defrosting and defogging systems in their cars or to use their rear cameras and Tesla Autopilot features while parking and driving.
In the letter sent to Tesla’s Vice President of Legal Al Prescott, the Federal Vehicle Safety Authority wrote that Tesla’s MCU problems could increase the risk of drivers colliding due to the “possible loss of audible time, driver sensation and alarms” that are part of the Tesla Autopilot, the company’s advanced driver assistance system.
The error rate for media control devices was as high as 17% in older Tesla Model S vehicles (manufactured from 2012 to 2015) and as high as 4% for cars manufactured by Tesla from 2016 to 2018, the letter said. And MCU errors are expected to increase as cars age and remain in use, the NHTSA said, citing Tesla projections.
“Considering Tesla’s projects of MCU repairs, even MINE [model year] Topic vehicles from 2018 will experience 100% failure of the MCU within about 10 years, “NHTSA investigators wrote.
Tesla previously offered a “warranty extension” to persuade customers of the defect. As CNBC reported at the time, some owners who had paid for replacing the media controller out of pocket would be able to cover their costs under the extended warranty.
Read the full letter from NHTSA to Tesla.