Tesla’s latest Autopilot safety patch hits 1.6M Chinese vehicles

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Joined: Nov 2016

A hot new Tesla import has arrived in China in the form of a pair of forced software updates for nearly every car the US EV maker has sold in the Middle Kingdom. 

According to China’s State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), more than 1.6 million Model S, X, 3 and Y Teslas made between 2014 and 2023 will get an over-the-air software update to correct safety shortcomings in Tesla’s level 2 advanced driver assist software, known as Autopilot, in one of several implementation stages in the coming months. 

“When the [Autopilot] is turned on, the driver may misuse [it], increasing the risk of vehicle collision and posing safety risks,” the SAMR said.

For those wondering, this is another Autopilot recall happening for the exact same reason Tesla was forced to recall more than 2 million vehicles from US roads for an OTA update last month. That OTA update was issued after a lengthy investigation by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined Autopilot lacked safety features necessary to prevent driver misuse. 

Per Tesla, last month’s Autopilot update added additional controls and alerts “to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility.” Tesla also reportedly added easier methods of engaging and disengaging Autopilot, more thorough safety controls when operating outside of controlled access highways and suspension of the system after repeated warnings. 

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The SAMR didn’t go into details about the software fixes being deployed in China, but did mention additional reminders and controls to ensure drivers are paying attention. It’s not immediately clear if anything different was being developed for Teslas in China – we asked, but didn’t hear back.

Along with the Autopilot update, Tesla is also recalling code in some 7,538 Model S and X vehicles in China to address a problem with door unlock controls that could cause them to pop the locks during a crash, increasing injury risks. The problem was addressed last month in the US.

Talk about bad timing
A nationwide safety update in China couldn’t come at a worse time for Tesla, which recently lost its crown as the best-selling EV maker in the world to BYD, a Chinese company with a distinct home team advantage in the world’s largest EV market. 

When asked about Tesla competitors during a 2011 Bloomberg interview, Tesla owner Elon Musk laughed when BYD was mentioned. 

“I don’t think [BYD vehicles are] particularly attractive,” Musk said of the cars. “The technology is not very strong, and BYD as a company has some pretty severe problems in their home turf of China.” 

“I think their focus is and rightly should be on making sure they don’t die in China,” Musk added – but die they most certainly did not. Instead, BYD is now top dog in the global EV sales stakes, while Musk is facing yet another national-level PR disaster. ®


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