Tesla Asked to Recall 158,000 Vehicles Over Flash Memory Failure

Daniel Fowler
January 15, 2021

It has until 27 January to respond.

The NHTSA, the auto safety agency of the USA, made the request through a formal letter on Wednesday sent directly to Tesla.

BBC News has asked Tesla for a response. Experts say the letter means that Tesla has resisted doing a recall that NHTSA feels is necessary.

Tesla shipped this iteration of its MCU in ~159,000 vehicles, including 2012-2018 versions of the Model S and 2016-2018 versions of the Model X. The current failure rate at the time of the initial investigation was as high as 30 percent in certain build months, and failure rates accelerate after 3-4 years in service.

During its investigation, NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) learned that the expected usage life rating for the 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory device is approximately 3,000 "P/E", or Program-Erase cycles.

However, this directly contradicts the current U.S. recall notice, which says "the failure of the media control unit constitutes a defect related to motor vehicle safety".

From 2012 through 2018, Tesla sold around 531,500 vehicles altogether and the recalled cars could amount for some 15 to 20 percent now on the road.

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This all started in June 2020, when NHTSA started investigating more than 12,000 consumer complaints and warranty claims that the screens were going dark. NHTSA says the screens would fail in five to six years, which isn't sufficient for safety-critical features.

NHTSA said it told Tesla that other automakers have issued numerous recalls for similar safety issues, including a detailed list of prior callbacks.

The request isn't binding but, if Tesla refuses, they'll have to provide a full explanation for not issuing a recalling.

The glitch also impacts the Autopilot advanced driving system, along with blinkers, audible chimes, driver sensing, and alerts associated with these vehicle functions'.

"The lack of a functioning windshield defogging and defrosting system may decrease the driver's visibility in inclement weather, increasing the risk of a crash", the letter said.

Tesla has implemented some over-the-air updates to mitigate some of the issues - but the NHTSA said they were insufficient to address it concerns. The NHTSA believes a "5- or 6- year life expectancy for a component integral to providing the driver with safety functions is insufficient" and noted data from Tesla showed "MCU failure rates between 14.2 - 17.3% for the range of MY 2012-2015 Model S" vehicles. The agency can schedule a public meeting on matter and could turn it over to the Justice Department for legal action.

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