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Tesla Recalls Two Million Vehicles

Tesla Recalls 2 Million Vehicles in the US to Fix Autopilot System Defect

Amrusha Chati

Amrusha Chati

15 December 20233 min read

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Tesla Recalls 2 Million Vehicles in the US

Electric automaker Tesla has recalled 2 million vehicles operating in the US to fix a defect in its "Autosteer" autopilot system. Tesla led by Elon Musk, is the world's dominant electric car manufacturer.

This is Tesla's fourth recall in two years. But this recall covers almost all the cars the company has on US roads currently. It includes all models Y, S, 3, and X produced between October 5, 2012, and Dec 7, 2023.

Tesla's Autopilot technology has been under scrutiny for some time now. There are serious concerns about drivers not paying attention while driving. Trusting the heavily marketed technology too much has led to many fatalities.

So what is Tesla's tech all about and why does it need to get fixed by pulling all the company's cars off US roads? We take a closer look.

Tesla's autopilot technology

Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduced Autopilot software in October of 2015. Other luxury cars, like Mercedes, already had cruise control technology. Musk claimed that Tesla's Autopilot was the first full self-driving software that could change lanes on its own. He cautioned that drivers still have to pay attention. He claimed, “It will change people's perception of the future quite drastically.”

The Tesla vehicles offer an Autopilot suite with "Autosteer" and "Traffic Aware Cruise Control". Autosteer is supposed to be used on controlled-access freeways. Or, use a special feature called Autosteer on City Streets for urban navigation.

In October 2023, Tesla disclosed that the US Justice Department had issued subpoenas related to its Full Self-Driving (FSD) and Autopilot systems. In October 2022, Reuters reported that Tesla was under criminal investigation. The investigation focused on Tesla's claim that their electric vehicles could drive themselves.

In February this year, Tesla also recalled 362,000 US vehicles to update its FSD Beta software. This was because NHTSA said the cars didn't meet traffic safety laws and could cause crashes.

Why is Tesla recalling 2 million cars?

The recall follows an investigation into Autopilot. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began the investigation in August 2021. The investigation focused on 322 crashes involving Tesla's Autopilot. 17 people were killed in these crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a recall notice to its website. The recall affects four Tesla models made between 2012 and 2023. The recall requires modifying a driver-assistance feature called Autosteer. This is an Autopilot control feature.

Autopilot is designed to steer, brake, and accelerate vehicles on its own when on highways.

The agency says its investigation found Autopilot’s method of ensuring drivers are paying attention can be inadequate. It can lead to “foreseeable misuse of the system.”

The NHTSA said that the Autopilot system can lull drivers into a false sense of security and make them lax. The over-the-air software update will give Tesla drivers more prominent warnings. These warnings will indicate when they are not paying attention to the road. The warnings will be active when the Autosteer function is active. The added controls and alerts will "further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility," according to NHTSA documents.

Regulatory scrutiny for Tesla

Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticized Tesla. They said the Autopilot feature lacks safety measures.

The software update will further limit the Autosteer feature's controls to prevent driver misuse. The recall documents said, "If the driver tries to use Autosteer when it can't be used, the feature will alert the driver with visual and audible alerts. Autosteer will not engage."

Additional controls will be included. These include

  • increasing the prominence of visual alerts if the driver lets go of the steering wheel
  • simplifying how Autosteer is turned on and off
  • adding checks on whether Autosteer is being used outside of controlled access roads

If a driver repeatedly fails "to demonstrate continuous and sustained driving responsibility", they could be suspended from using Autosteer.

How does Tesla's recall work?

Tesla has said it will send a software update "over-the-air" to fix the Autosteer safety issue.

The update happens automatically and does not require a visit to a dealership or garage. However, the safety regulators still classify this as a recall.

Autopilot helps with steering, acceleration, and braking. But, despite what the name suggests, the car is not entirely self-driving and still requires driver input.

The agency said in a statement sent to The New York Times that automated technology holds great promise for improving safety. However, this is true only when it is deployed responsibly. “Today’s action is an example of improving automated systems by prioritizing safety.“

Tech companies are experimenting and innovating with self-driving technology. However, it's necessary to exercise some caution in vehicle operation and maintain responsibility even with the best of technology. 

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Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.