Another Major Tesla Recall, This Time Over Assisted-Driving in China
Tesla is recalling nearly every single vehicle the company has sold in China, the latest chapter in the ongoing saga over the automaker’s controversial driver-assist technology.
The move, ordered by Chinese regulators, covers some 1.6 million cars, the New York Times reports. It mirrors a massive recall in the U.S. aimed at updating Tesla’s Autopilot assisted-driving technology.
“While Tesla’s autopilot system is designed for highway use, American regulators have been increasingly concerned that many drivers are using it on local roads, and are failing to keep their hands on the steering wheel,” Keith Bradsher writes for the Times.
The U.S. recall, announced in December, covers some 2 million Tesla vehicles. It came after a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in response to hundreds of crashes involving Teslas in Autopilot mode. Several people have died in those crashes, including a California man killed in 2018 when his car collided with a freeway barrier near Redwood City.
“China’s regulator has in the past insisted that companies conduct the same recalls in China that they announce in other markets,” Bradsher reports.
The new recall covers Model Y and Model 3 vehicles built in Shanghai, according to the Times. It also covers Model S, Model X and Model 3 cars imported to China.
Tesla is rolling out software updates over the air to address the recalls in China and the U.S. New software will add “additional automatic assisted steering control,” the Chinese regulator reportedly said. The company will also remind drivers to remain alert and abide by traffic laws, even while operating in Autopilot mode.
NHTSA found that some Tesla drivers may be lulled into a sense of overconfidence that Autopilot allows vehicles to fully drive themselves. The agency said previous safeguards against misuse were not adequate.
Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence that Teslas engaged in driver-assist struggle to spot stopped emergency and other vehicles and to react to those vehicles when necessary. A Tesla Model S was reportedly engaged in Autopilot when the vehicle smashed into a fire truck in Culver City in 2019, for example.
Tesla reportedly delivered some 1.8 million vehicles around the world last year. The company also slashed prices to try to boost demand.
But it recently warned that it expects a dip in sales this year.
“The electric carmaker said vehicle volume growth in 2024 ‘may be notably lower’ than the rate observed last year, as the company works toward launching its ‘next-generation vehicle’ in Texas,” CNBC reports. “The company cautioned investors that it’s ‘currently between two major growth waves.’”
Tesla faces increasing competition, especially in China, the world’s fastest-growing market for electric vehicles. Chinese automaker BYD was the top-selling electric vehicle manufacturer globally in the fourth quarter of last year.
Tesla Autopilot Lawsuits Mounting
The recalls come as Tesla faces a growing number of lawsuits blaming the company for serious and even fatal accidents involving vehicles allegedly engaged in Autopilot at the time of the crashes.
The company successfully fought off a pair of lawsuits last year, including one blaming the automaker for a deadly 2019 Riverside crash involving a Model 3 vehicle.
The car allegedly was in Autopilot driver assist mode at the time of the accident when it suddenly veered off a highway at 65 miles per hour and slammed into a palm tree. The driver was killed and two passengers, including an eight-year-old boy, were said to be severely injured.
A California jury in November ruled 9-3 in favor of Tesla, finding that the vehicle did not have a manufacturing defect, Reuters reports.
Months earlier, the company defeated a separate suit over a 2020 Los Angeles accident in which a Tesla driver said her Model S swerved into a curb while on Autopilot. The car’s airbag then deployed, injuring the woman’s jaw, knocking out teeth and causing nerve damage, she alleged.
Tesla argued that the woman was using Autopilot on a city street at the time, despite warnings that the technology is for highway driving only.
A state court jury sided with Tesla, finding that the airbag worked properly and that Tesla adequately warned drivers that Autopilot is not a self-driving technology, according to Reuters.
Still, the suits continue. A judge in Florida ruled in November that a lawsuit against Tesla over a fatal 2019 crash in the Sunshine State could move forward to trial.
“Palm Beach County Judge Reid Scott ruled that there was ‘reasonable evidence’ to conclude that Tesla owner and CEO Elon Musk and other company executives knew that the vehicle's autopilot system was defective,” NPR reports. “But they continued to tout its capabilities and sell it anyway.”
Legal Rights for California Tesla Owners
Tesla owners across California have some important rights and protections under the state’s lemon law.
Here is what you need to know.
The lemon law, officially known as the Song Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, forces automakers to perform a full range of repairs on cars while they are under warranty. It also requires the companies to buy back (or replace, in some cases) vehicles that they are unable to or simply decline to fix.
There is no specific number of repair requests or attempts that must happen before the buyback or replace requirement kicks in. An experienced California lemon law attorney can help you understand your rights and take action.
Talk with a California Lemon Law Attorney
If you have been stuck with a defective or malfunctioning vehicle, a California lemon law attorney at Bickel Sannipoli APC can help you fight back.