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Tesla Recall: Over-The-Air Updates, NEMA Connectors, And More

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Tesla Motors stand at 2014 Detroit Auto Show

Tesla Motors stand at 2014 Detroit Auto Show

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Every carmaker puts its own interpretation on news, especially at Detroit Auto Show.

So it's reasonable for Tesla Motors to cast an NHTSA recall yesterday as an example of its ability to respond swiftly and effectively to update its Model S electric car to make the customer experience even better.

Jerome Guillen and Diarmuid O'Connell of Tesla Motors, press conference at 2014 Detroit Auto Show

Jerome Guillen and Diarmuid O'Connell of Tesla Motors, press conference at 2014 Detroit Auto Show

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The NHTSA recall (number 14V006000), issued yesterday, applies to 2013 Model S cars "equipped for, and delivered with, certain NEMA 14-50 (240 volt) Universal Mobile Connector (UMC) adapters."

The safety concern is that while the Model S is recharging, the wall outlet, the charging cord, or the adapter itself could overheat--potentially causing fire or burns.

Tesla had told the NHTSA last fall that it knew of several cases of overheating, including a garage fire in Irvine, California, that resulted in significant damage.

The solution is an over-the-air update of the car's firmware; Tesla executives said most of the cars had already been updated.

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Tesla vice president of business development Diarmuid O'Connell said after the company's press conference this morning that the company was also offering to ship an upgraded adaptor to its customers, as part of what he called a "best practices approach" to customer service and satisfaction.

O'Connell stressed that the adaptor upgrade was not part of the recall, but a voluntary additional offer by Tesla for customers who chose to take advantage of it.

He raised the question of whether "recall" was the proper term for a change that didn't require the car to be brought to a dealer, but that could be accomplished over the air.

"We're having discussions about the word 'recall' for cars that aren't actually fixed," he said, but just updated through software.

As well as O'Connell, Tesla vice president of worldwide sales and service Jerome Guillen spoke at the company's press conference, saying Tesla had delivered 6,900 Model S cars in the fourth quarter, about 20 percent above its previous guidance.

This is Tesla's second NHTSA recall; the first came in June 2013, for modifications to rear-seat mounting brackets.

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