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Tesla Motors’ Over-the-Air Repairs Are the Way Forward

Tesla and GM have both issued fire-related recalls, but Tesla’s fix doesn’t require owners to bring their cars in.

Tesla Motors is using over-the-air software updates to quickly fix the sort of problems that often arise when bringing a new car to market. This forward-looking approach is an important part of the company’s success (see “How Tesla is Driving Electric Car Innovation”).

Today the National Highway Safety Administration officially published two recall announcements, one from Tesla Motors and one from GM. Both are related to problems that could cause fires. In the case of GM, trucks left idling can overheat and catch fire—eight fires have been reported. In Tesla’s case, an overheating charger plug seems have to have been the cause of a fire in a garage (it’s not clear if the problem had to do with miswiring of the wall charger, damage to the plug, or something else).

Both problems can be addressed with software updates–in Tesla’s case, the software detects charging problems and decreases charging rates to avoid overheating (GM hasn’t provided details). Owners of 370,000 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups will need to find time to take their pickups to the dealer to get the software fixed. But because of its ability to send software updates to its vehicles wirelessly, the 29,222 Tesla Model S electric cars that were affected have already been fixed. (While Tesla says the software update addresses the issue, it is also mailing Tesla owners new charger plugs that have a thermal fuse designed to provide another layer of safety.)

Indeed, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk argues the fix shouldn’t be called a recall at all, although it technically is from the point of view of NHTSA. On Twitter he noted that no vehicles were being “physically recalled” and said, in light of the over-the-air software updates, “The word ‘recall’ needs to be recalled.”\


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