Tesla’s reputation for making technologically advanced cars took a hit in December when the company, under pressure from regulators, recalled more than two million vehicles.
US officials said the automaker had not done enough to ensure drivers remained alert when using a system that can steer, accelerate and brake cars automatically, so-called Autopilot.
The recall by Tesla, the world’s dominant electric vehicle maker, was its fourth recall in less than two years and its most significant to date.
It was preceded by a two-year investigation into accidents that occurred while the technology was in use.
The recall affects nearly all Teslas sold in the U.S. since the Autopilot feature began in 2015.
Tesla, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, said it would send a software update to fix the problem.
What is Autopilot?
Autopilot is intended to assist with steering, acceleration and braking while the car still requires input from the driver.
Tesla’s software is supposed to ensure that drivers remain attentive with their hands on the wheel and that the feature is only used in appropriate conditions, such as highway driving.
However, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said a two-year investigation found that “the visibility and range of function controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse.”
NHTSA first investigated 11 incidents involving Tesla’s Autosteer in August 2021.
In total, the agency reviewed nearly 1,000 accidents in which autopilot was initially reported to have been used and focused on 322 accidents involving autopilot.
According to an announcement by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the recall affects 2,031,220 Teslas, including the Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Model Y.
Tesla accounts for about half of the electric passenger cars sold in the United States, but its market share has declined as other automakers have begun selling electric models.
Additionally, recent public statements by Tesla CEO Elon Musk have been widely interpreted as anti-Semitic and have offended some customers.
This particular recall is equivalent to another blow to the company’s image.
To address this problem, Tesla said it will wirelessly update its cars to add new, more prominent visual alerts and controls when Autosteer is activated to remind drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to road.
Tesla said it disagreed with the agency’s assessment of the system. The company has argued that Autopilot makes its cars safer.
While there are many articles that do not accurately convey the nature of our safety systems, the recent Washington Post article is particularly egregious in its misstatements and lack of relevant context.
We at Tesla believe that we have a moral obligation to continue…
— Tesla (@Tesla) December 12, 2023
On Monday, Tesla said on Platform X:
“It is morally unjustifiable not to make these systems available to a wider set of consumers, given the overwhelming data showing they save lives and prevent injuries,” in response to a Washington Post article about its flaws.
Tesla’s other recalls
Tesla has faced several other recalls. In May, China ordered Tesla to recall 1.1 million vehicles, citing an issue with the acceleration and braking systems of some models made in China and abroad.
A few months earlier, Tesla recalled more than 362,000 cars equipped with its Full Self Driving driver assistance system, a more advanced technology than Autopilot, after US regulators found it increased the risk of accidents.
The more advanced system allows vehicles to drive above legal speed limits and through intersections in an illegal and unpredictable manner, safety officials said.
And in early 2022, Tesla recalled 54,000 cars equipped with Full Self Driving software to disable a feature that in some conditions let the vehicles roll slowly through intersections without making the required stops.