Tesla is recalling nearly 363,000 of its electric cars because flaws in a version of its full self-driving software could cause crashes, according to a US government regulator.
The recall covers certain Model S and Model X vehicles manufactured between 2016 and 2023, as well as Model Ys made since 2020.
Tesla sold 1.3mn vehicles worldwide last year. The recall applies to every vehicle with the beta version of full-self driving software, according to a filing on Thursday by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Tesla charges customers an additional $15,000 for the software.
The safety agency’s request for a recall presents a new challenge for Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, who has repeatedly said the beta software version is nearly ready for full release.
It comes as Tesla confronts slowing growth in new-car deliveries, cutting prices as demand no longer vastly outpaces production.
The carmaker’s Autopilot software, a simpler driver assistance technology than the full self-driving software, has been under investigation by the US safety regulator since 2021.
Autopilot was turned on in 11 instances where a Tesla drove into a road crash scene, causing a total of 17 injuries and one death. The head of the programme left last year, and earlier on Thursday a US labour watchdog received a complaint that several employees who worked on Autopilot were fired in retaliation for trying to form a union.
The full self-driving software being recalled can functionally drive and change lanes, though the driver still needs to pay attention to the road and vehicle.
But the highway safety regulator said the software “may allow the vehicle to act unsafe around intersections”. The vehicles may travel straight through intersections from a turn lane, fail to stop at a stop sign or incautiously drive through a yellow light. They also may speed above posted limits, according to the agency.
Tesla did not agree with the safety regulator’s analysis, but “decided to administer a voluntary recall out of an abundance of caution”, according to the regulatory filing. Tesla has found 18 warranty claims between 2019 and 2022 that may be related to the problem.
Owners of the recalled cars must be notified by April 15. Tesla plans to release a free, over-the-air software update to fix the problem. The update “will improve how FSD beta negotiates certain driving manoeuvres”, the filing said.
Musk said on Twitter that the word “recall” was “anachronistic” and “flat wrong”, given that the problem can be addressed through a software update.
The billionaire said at a Financial Times event last year that Tesla was “actually quite close to achieving self-driving at a safety level that is better than human”.
Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey, Democrats on the Senate transportation committee, applauded the recall.
“We have long warned that there are critical flaws with Tesla’s software, including the rolling stops feature, which puts the public at grave risk,” they said in a statement. “Tesla must finally stop overstating the real capabilities of its vehicles.”