On Thursday, Tesla issued a voluntary recall for Model X SUVs built between October 2016 and August 2017, to address a potential second-row seat malfunction.
The timing of a recall for a Model X seat issue isn’t great, for two reasons. First, Tesla has been dogged by seat problems with its SUV every since the vehicle launched in 2015. Second, the company is struggling to ramp up production on its Model 3 sedan, but failing to meet its own expectations — the seat issue with the X suggests that the 3 could be in for similar quality control troubles, especially because Tesla skipped the assembly line prototyping stage of production.
The number of Model X’s recalled over roughly a ten-month period is equal to about 10% of Tesla’s current production, so the recall demonstrates that if Tesla has a problem it can affect a lot of its fleet. And the concern over the seats is serious: they could fail to lock in place and shift during a collision.
Tesla has always been quite good about recalls, however, usually proactively issuing them and them moving quickly to inform its owners. In my experience, the company’s “abundance of caution” approach is actually industry leading in many ways.
We also shouldn’t read too much into a recall based on a common component. It should be an easy fix. A larger problem would have involved critical systems, such as the Model X’s electric battery or powertrain, or the vehicle’s brakes or steering.
Tesla did have some battery issues early in its existence, but adding some shielding to the bottom of cars was the solution. Lately, the recalls have involved mundane components — seats and seat belts — which are obviously important but also features of a supply chain, some of it internally and some of it based outside Tesla’s factory.
The other critical thing to note here is that recalls happen in the auto industry all the time. Every vehicle I’ve ever personally owned that wasn’t well used has experienced some type of recall (save one, a 2000 Volvo that presented more than its fair share of other bugs) and I’ve owned Hondas and Toyotas, legendary for reliability.
Cars are complicated. On balance, Tesla’s are less complex than everybody else’s. So over time, Tesla should experience fewer recalls, even as it sells more vehicles. And they should be, for the most part, minor.
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