Following reports of Chinese Tesla vehicle owners accidentally activating their Autopilot’s cruise control feature, Tesla is recalling 285,000 vehicles in the country to fix the issue. The recall covers 249,855 Model 3 and Model Y vehicles that were manufactured at Gigafactory Shanghai and 35,655 imported Model 3 vehicles. The vehicles covered by the latest Tesla recall were manufactured between December 2019 and June 2021.
Regulators say that accidentally activating the Autopilot could cause the Tesla to speed up unexpectedly. This issue seems to be different from reported instances of sudden unintended acceleration that is allegedly caused by a flaw in manufacturing the actual vehicle. In those cases, the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ruled that the sudden unexpected acceleration could have been caused by operator error – essentially drivers hitting the wrong pedal in their cars by mistake.
Although Tesla doesn’t have a press office that can respond to media requests, it did post an apology for the issue on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. Tesla has had numerous public relations issues in China, including previous recalls for problems like suspension issues, protests over poor customer service that included one woman climbing on top of a Tesla vehicle on display at a car show, and the Chinese government’s ban on parking Tesla vehicles at government-owned facilities due to concerns about spying.
Tesla is currently wrangling with Chinese bloggers whom it accuses of spreading malicious lies about the company. Some bloggers say that Tesla threatened to sue them for what it says are defamatory comments that included questions about the same unintended acceleration that so many vehicles are now being recalled for. It has also filed a lawsuit against a Chinese news outlet that accused the company of using “sweatshop” practices at Gigafactory Shanghai. The latter could easily be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, as China often uses forced labor practices against “undesirable” populations like the Uighur Muslims.
The publicity issues has led to weak sales in China recently, although deliveries picked up in May. Despite the problems, Tesla plans to manufacture as many as 500,000 cars a year at Gigafactory Shanghai and opened a data center in China in an attempt to address the concerns that its cameras could capture footage of sensitive activities at Chinese government facilities.
Regulators do say that Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are not quite ready to independently operate a vehicle despite Tesla’s and Elon Musk’s bragging about its capabilities. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ scale of self-driving vehicles, a fully autonomous car would be at Level 5. Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software is currently at Level 2, capable of performing some limited functions like navigating a parking lot in a relatively predictable environment. Despite disclaimers to that effect on Tesla’s websites, that has not stopped a few Tesla owners from pulling dangerous stunts like riding in the back seat of a driverless Tesla.