Tesla rolls out software fix after regulators recall more than 2 million cars over Autopilot defect

C.E.O. of Tesla, Chief Engineer of SpaceX and C.T.O. of X Elon Musk speaks during the New York Times annual DealBook summit on November 29, 2023 in New York City.

Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images

Tesla is recalling around 2 million of its vehicles in the U.S. to fix Autopilot features that auto safety regulators found to be confusing to drivers, or too easy for them to misuse and abuse.

In filings posted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website Wednesday, the agency found that, in some circumstances where a feature called Autosteer is in use,there may be an increased risk of a collision.” While Tesla did not concur with the agency’s analysis, according to the filings, the electric vehicle maker agreed to issue a voluntary recall and roll out an “over-the-air software remedy” to fix the problem.

Autosteer is a component of Tesla’s “Basic Autopilot” package that is intended for use on “controlled-access highways” and can provide “steering, braking and acceleration support” for drivers in certain conditions, the filings said. Drivers are supposed to keep their hands on the steering wheel and remain attentive while using Autosteer so that they can intervene if necessary.

The feature uses several controls to determine that drivers are still engaged when using Autosteer, but the NHTSA found that “the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse,” according to the report.

The recall will affect 2,031,220 of Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built since 2012, the filings said. The software remedy began rolling out Tuesday, and the NHTSA said the remaining impacted vehicles would receive the update “at a later date.” The fix is free to all customers.

The NHTSA opened an investigation into 11 incidents involving Tesla cars that were engaging Autosteer in 2021, which ultimately led to the recall. Tesla cooperated with the investigation and had “several meetings” with NHTSA representatives, the agency said.

Shares of Tesla were down more than 1% on Wednesday.

For an Autopilot fix and future software update to Autosteer, Tesla plans to roll out “additional controls and alerts,” to “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged” according to a Part 573 Recall Report it filed with the agency.

Those controls will include more prominent visual alerts on Tesla’s touch screens, “simplifying engagement and disengagement of Autosteer.” The update will also add “additional checks” for drivers using Autosteer, including while “outside controlled access highways and when approaching traffic controls.” Tesla’s filing with the NHTSA also says drivers can eventually get locked out of using Autosteer if they do not use it responsibly.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for further information.

— CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.

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