Until Friday, Tesla was having a fantastic year. The automaker is finally enjoying consistent profitability and is delivering its electric cars in record numbers. Unfortunately, it had to deliver some bad news.
Tesla is recalling nearly 30,000 cars, including both the Model S and X, due to an alleged defect in the vehicles’ suspension system. The recall affects almost all of the imported vehicles sold in China. Interestingly, it doesn’t affect cars outside of that market.
Making matters more complicated is the fact that Tesla recently got rid of its PR department. As such, the electric carmaker has been relatively quiet about the issue. That being said, it claims that the suspension system on its vehicles isn’t actually defective and that China is forcing it to recall the cars unnecessarily.
Something Strange is Happening
The circumstances surrounding Tesla’s new recall are messy, to say the least. On Friday, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation made an announcement that reads, “Part of the imported Model S and Model X vehicles with a production date between September 17, 2013 and August 16, 2017 will be recalled, a total of 29,193 vehicles.”
There are a few interesting things to note here. For one, the recall only affects vehicles that were produced during or before 2017. It is unclear what Tesla might have changed in its manufacturing process after that point.
On top of this, the recall only targets vehicles that were imported into China despite the fact that the cars were produced in the U.S. and are (effectively) the same cars being sold to U.S. drivers.
The complaint from the Chinese government alleges that both the imported Model S and Model X have a suspension problem that can lead to a cracked linkage after a forceful impact. Tesla, meanwhile, says that the issue isn’t related to its manufacturing but rather can be attributed to factors outside of its control—such as the driving habits of Tesla owners in China and Chinese road conditions.
In a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Tesla’s managing counsel for regulatory affairs, Elizabeth Mykytiuk, says, “[Tesla] believes the root cause of the issue is driver abuse, including that driver usage and expectation for damageability is uniquely severe in the China market.”
Interestingly, there is some data to back up that claim. Tesla states that less than 0.05 percent of its cars outside of China experience the suspension issue. Meanwhile, about 0.1 percent of its cars in China have the problem. The fact that the suspension failure happens twice as often in China suggests that the market could have something to do with it.
Of course, this also isn’t a guarantee that the manufacturing process isn’t inherently flawed.
Yet, Tesla has another reason to stand behind its cars. In 2016, the NHTSA investigated a similar issue in the Model S’s suspension system. It determined that there was no defect. That certainly makes the Chinese recall demand seem odd.
As of now, it remains unclear if Tesla plans to recall its Model X and S vehicles in markets other than China. Considering the fact that the automaker doesn’t believe there is a problem, that seems unlikely. However, anything is possible.
This development will be worth keeping an eye on in the coming days.