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Serial setbacks for Tesla

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And one more tile: the firm led (and not founded) by Elon Musk must face a new massive recall.

The German organization in charge of road safety asks him to inspect more than 59,000 models leaving the Giga factory in Berlin. These are Model 3 and Model Y, affected by a computer bug which would prevent the eCall system from contacting the emergency services after a crash. A problem that is far from trivial. This is not the first time that the brand has been subject to a recall in recent months, due to software defects. Three of the eleven recalls aimed at Tesla since the beginning of the year are related to bugs of this type.

If recalls are commonplace in the automotive industry, for a wide variety of reasons, we will notice that these concerns relate to software: an area in which Tesla is supposed to dominate over the competition. The Californian firm inaugurated the mode of software updating in cars (as on a smartphone) and showed that it could be made a business, with for example its FSD (Full Self Driving) system which adds functions related to autonomous driving, for a fee.

An intermediate version between Autopilot and FSD

However, things don’t quite go as planned. Tesla’s choice to take its customers for beta testers has been widely criticized in the United States and even considered irresponsible. In addition, the effectiveness of this pack at 12,000 dollars is very relative, malfunctions having been pointed out by users in videos.

To make matters worse, Tesla has just launched an improved version of Autopilot which incorporates part of what the FSD offers, namely: navigation coupled with Autopilot (to anticipate exits on the highway), changes queues, as well as the summon function which allows the vehicle to park itself. This intermediate system is offered at $6,000. Suddenly, those who have opted for the FSD have the feeling of paying full price for a gain that is not so obvious. One of the latest functions offered, an audible notification to alert that the light has just turned green, is still nothing transcendent (while the automatic guidance in town, announced for soon, seems more relevant).

Note that on the page it devotes to these assistance systems, Tesla takes care to emphasize that human action is necessary to supervise driving and that the vehicle is not autonomous, including in the case of the FSD. A precaution of language that comes as a counterpoint to the whimsical leader who always promises automation for tomorrow!

A fatal technical choice

Beyond these pricing choices, the weak point of the American brand is its stubbornness to rely on a single technology.

Tesla relies solely on artificial vision by cameras, while other manufacturers also use radars, even lidars. This choice is described as “fundamentally dangerous” by Raj Rajkumar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, who studies autonomous vehicles.

The fact is that the Autopilot is the system most involved in accidents related to a semi-automatic level 2 system (on a scale of 0 to 5). This is why the NHTSA, the American road safety organization, has decided to extend its investigations into several Tesla collisions. The investigation moved from the preliminary assessment stage to that of engineering analysis, the last stage before a possible recall.

The agency says it wants to “explore the extent to which Autopilot or other Tesla driver assistance systems may exacerbate human or behavioral risk by compromising the effectiveness of driver supervision.” The survey in question covers 830,000 vehicles (Models S, X, Y and 3 between 2014 and 2022).

Layoffs, including engineers

The fleet is substantial, and by systematically uploading driving data, Tesla in principle has all the cards in hand to improve its system.

In this context, it is difficult to understand why the firm chose to abruptly close an office in San Mateo, California. 200 jobs have been cut there. The affected employees were working on analyzing data from the Autopilot driver assistance system. Their job was to watch the videos captured by the on-board cameras and to annotate them. In fact, the manufacturer seems to want to reorganize the teams. He had already moved employees to Palo Alto, also in California, and Buffalo, New York.

In the United States, developers of autonomous driving systems rather call on organizations specializing in data analysis and AI, such as Amazon, Cloudfactory, Hyve, or Appen. The leader of Tesla, who recently spoke about the billions that the company is currently losing, with the ramp-up of its factories, announced his desire to reduce the workforce by 10%. For information, the manufacturer employs 100,000 employees (almost as many as Renault).

Out of inspiration?

Photo Credit – Tesla

Recently, Tesla unveiled a range extender concept at an innovation and ecology fair in Hannover, Germany.

It is a trailer, which integrates solar panels as well as a battery, and which can bring a surplus of energy in areas not equipped with terminals. Equipment that seems to target the Cybertruck, but that could adapt to other models. The trailer is also connected to the Internet, thanks to a receiver connected to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. Fans of the brand are enthusiastic.

However, this concept of a trailer as a range extender was invented in 2013 by a Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Segard. The EP Tender has been tested in particular on the Renault ZOE. The ambition is to offer a rental service for these trailers to allow long-distance journeys on motorways, without having to stop to refuel at service areas.

An update is also needed to regain control of innovation.

In short

Recall campaign in Germany for software problems, autonomous driving which is (still) overdue, wave of layoffs in the United States… Tesla has experienced many setbacks in recent weeks, to which our high-tech specialist in the field returns. car, Laurent Meillaud.

Laurent Meillaud



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