Tesla Quietly Pulled Steering Components As Solution To Chip Shortage

The Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai

The Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai
Photo: Xiaolu Chu (Getty Images)

It looks like Tesla has taken some major production shortcuts to circumvent the chip shortage and hit production targets. According to CNBCthe company decided to remove one of the two electronic control units included in the steering racks of some Chinese Model 3 and Model Y cars, then did not notify buyers of what it had done.

This has already affected tens of thousands of vehicles sold to customers in China, Australia, the UK, Germany and other parts of Europe. The report cites two employees and internal correspondence.

This is all bad enough on its own, but the real kick of the story is the fact that you are the first hear about it is in a news report and not of the society which is of-satisfy your car. Tesla reportedly considered notifying you, the buyer, of the change, but decided against it.

The omission of this part also means that Tesla will not be able to add “level 3” self-driving functionality to affected cars with just a simple over-the-Air software update. This is in direct contradiction to what Elon Musk himself has said in the past:

“My personal assumption is that we will achieve full self-driving this year at a significantly higher level of safety than a person. So fleet cars going essentially self-driving via a software update, I think, could end up being the biggest increase in asset value of any asset class in history. We’ll see,” Musk said on an earnings call.

Fully Autonomous Beta doesn’t look exactly ready for prime time, with or without the room. Recently an incident where a Tesla Model 3 using FSD Beta hit a bollard was filmed and uploaded to YouTube.

Tesla employees said the cars need dual electronic control unit systems. This means that any car that would theoretically be upgraded to level 3 driving would have to have the part retrofitted during a service visit. They also said that the exclusion would not cause any safety issues, as the removed part was considered secondary – or redundant — unit, mainly used as a backup.

But is it still a security issue? Well, we can’t know for sure since Tesla is a company that likes to keep things under wraps. But CNBC asked a veteran transportation safety researcher what he thought:

“If something like a chip or an ECU doesn’t provide additional functionality, if it’s really redundant, you might be able to disable it or leave it out. With chips and software, there’s a bit of I can reassign stuff here and there,” Wallace said.

Much of the importance of component safety depends on the car’s computer architecture, another IHS Markit analyst, an IT services company, noted:

“I can’t think of a case where an automaker would say ‘You know what? We will remove a component from this module, even if it was there for a good reason and hopefully nothing will happen,” IHS Markit principal analyst Phil Amsurd told CNBC.

He went on to say that most automakers would spend 1,000 hours testing before make big changes like that. It could take years for quality or safety issues to become clear after a change like this.

On the other hand, Tesla employees say the company spent less than five weeks discussing the changes before moving forward, and Tesla didn’t see it as a big deal.

All of this raises some interesting questions. What else, if anything, does Tesla leave out? cars in the name of production targets? And will these same shortcuts take place on automakers or ship to the United States? There’s really no way to know unless other whistleblowers come forward.


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