Perhaps the most prominent feature of a Tesla interior is the center touchscreen, which controls crucial features such as the air conditioning and Autopilot — so the last thing you want it to do is fail. Just such an issue is at the heart of an unusual request from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has asked the California automaker to issue a recall for media control units in more than 158,000 model-year 2012-18 Model S sedans and 2016-18 Model X SUVs.
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According to NHTSA, the agency opened an investigation in June regarding the loss of rearview cameras in 2012-15 Model S vehicles, which failed due to premature memory wear-out in the MCU’s memory flash device. The investigation unveiled further related issues not only with the backup camera, but also climate controls, defogging and defrosting, turn signals, audible alerts and the Autopilot driver-assist system on both the Model S and Model X.
In response, Tesla provided nearly 2,400 related complaints and more than 12,000 claims related to MCU replacement, with the data showing failure rates of more than 30% in some months of manufacture and accelerating failure trends after three years of use — “significantly greater than the failure rate for vehicles involved in prior recalls involving similar behavior,” according to NHTSA. The probe was upgraded in November as evidence of a defect mounted, but Tesla still has not taken official action for repairs. (Recalls, which follow investigations in the federal process, typically are voluntary on the automaker’s part.)
Thus, NHTSA took the rare step Wednesday of sending a formal letter to the automaker, saying it tentatively concludes the affected vehicles “contain a defect related to motor vehicle safety” and requesting a response by Jan. 27.
Should Tesla fail to respond in a way that satisfies the agency, NHTSA said it will publish in the Federal Register a notice that the vehicles contain a safety-related defect, the consequences, its investigation, a scheduling of a public meeting and potential “other appropriate action.”
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