Tesla has issued a massive recall of nearly every vehicle it has exported to China, amounting to over 1.6 million electric cars, due to safety issues with the vehicles’ automatic steering and locks.
The recall, ordered by Chinese regulators, is the largest ever for electric vehicles and covers multiple Tesla models sold in China over the last several years. It comes amid heightened government scrutiny over the safety and quality issues with Teslas in China following several high-profile crashes.
Steering Software and Door Latches Targeted
According to China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), the recall aims to fix two separate issues with Teslas operating in China:
Improper activation of automated steering assistance (Autopilot): Teslas have had instances where the automated steering system unexpectedly activates while in manual drive mode. This could lead to potential collisions if drivers are caught off guard by the sudden automated maneuvering.
Faulty door latches: Some latch issues have led to Tesla doors opening unexpectedly while driving, raising the risk of occupants falling out.
To address these safety risks, Tesla will push over-the-air software updates to all vehicles part of the recall. The updates will improve sensors and cabling associated with the automated steering program. For the faulty latches, physical repairs at Tesla service centers will likely be required.
Almost Every Tesla Ever Sold in China Affected
The massive scale of this recall encompasses nearly every Tesla vehicle exported to China since 2014 across the Model S, Model 3, Model X, and Model Y lines. This amounts to over 1.6 million electric cars that Tesla has sold in China that will require safety fixes.
|Number of Vehicles Recalled
|Over 1 million
To put into context how substantial this is, Tesla has sold about 3 million vehicles globally to date. So this single recall in China represents over half of all Teslas ever sold worldwide.
The recalls follow a recent string of crashes involving Teslas in China, including a high-profile case of a woman protesting Tesla at a car show by climbing on top of a Model 3 while yelling that the breaks didn’t work. Her case about braking issues was dismissed by Chinese authorities, but additional Tesla crashes continued highlighting growing consumer concerns over quality and safety.
Heightened Regulatory Scrutiny in China
This expansive recall comes amid greater attention on Tesla from Chinese regulators after accidents blamed on assisted driving systems. While Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance system has come under harsh criticism in the past, China had up until 2022 taken a relatively hands-off approach.
However, China has become an increasingly vital market for Tesla over the years, with the automaker generating nearly a quarter of its global revenues from China alone. Tesla also faces surging competition in China’s booming electric vehicle industry from domestic automakers like BYD.
This massive recall represents just the latest step by authorities in China to rein in Tesla over various issues from data security to quality control. Prior government actions have included:
Banning Teslas from military complexes and housing compounds: Due to concerns of sensitive data being collected by cameras and sensors on Tesla vehicles.
Restricting use of data collected within China: Chinese regulators enacted strict data protection rules that limit what data Tesla can export and retain.
Additional recalls over quality issues: Chinese safety officials have ordered smaller-scale Tesla recalls touching just tens of thousands of locally-made Model 3 and Model Y vehicles relating to quality problems.
What’s Next: Software Fixes, Legal Exposure
Looking forward, Tesla now faces a mammoth effort to roll out over-the-air software patches and physical repairs addressing the two distinct safety issues underlying this unprecedented recall.
Industry experts expect it will take sustained effort over 2024 for Tesla to fully execute all required fixes across every recalled model. Tesla will need to carefully calibrate customized software for the array of vehicles and model years involved. Meanwhile, door latch replacements will involve major servicing operations spanning hundreds of Tesla service centers in China.
Legal liability also looms as a major question, given crashes that have already occurred involving vehicles now deemed unsafe under this recall. Families of crash victims and injured drivers will likely explore lawsuits seeking damages from Tesla. The company’s leaders, including CEO Elon Musk, may also face regulatory punishments or even criminal charges depending on investigation findings.
At minimum, this recall will deal severe damage to Tesla’s brand and reputation in China just as competition heats up. While Tesla enjoyed a first-mover advantage for years with few affordable EV alternatives, Chinese firms like BYD are now nipping at Tesla’s heels with offerings boasting better perceived quality and safety. This recall may accelerate consumer migration to rivals unless Tesla manages an impeccable response.
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