After pressure from regulators, Tesla is recalling nearly 135,000 electric cars, including the 2012-2018 Tesla Model S and 2016-2018 Tesla Model X, for an issue with their main touchscreen displays that could cause loss of the rearview camera display and other functions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Office of Defects Investigation (ODI), previously identified an issue with the 17-inch touchscreen in these cars (otherwise known as the media control unit) and issued a formal recall request last month.
Because Tesla decided to put the defroster/defogger button and other climate controls on the screen, rather than using physical buttons, a screen failure falls into the safety domain. Other infotainment functions such as audio, navigation, or phone connectivity aren't considered a critical safety issue meriting a recall.
In a letter sent to the NHTSA last month, in response to the agency's recall request, Tesla VP of legal Al Prescott said that "given a reasonable average daily use of 1.4 cycles, the expected life would be five to six years."
Newer vehicles must also comply with a federal requirement for rearview camera systems that began phasing in May 1, 2016, with 100% compliance required as of May 1, 2018. In its initial recall request, the ODI also pointed out that screen failure could affect the Autopilot driver-assist system, as well as turn signal functionality due to partial loss of audio chimes.
2017 Tesla Model S
The ODI identified the source of the problem as the touchscreen's NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor and its integrated 8GB eMMC flash memory chip. When the chip reaches lifetime wear, it can no longer maintain file-system integrity, according to the recall report.
To address the issue, Tesla will replace the VCM daughterboard with an "enhanced" eMMC controller. The recall is expected to begin March 31, and Tesla will notify customers of when to take their cars to a service center to have the work performed free of charge. Owners can contact Tesla customer service at 1-877-798-3752 and reference recall number SB-21-21-001, or call the NHTSA Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-800-424-9153 and reference recall number21V035000.
So far, Tesla has only been asked to recall older vehicles with the first-generation touchscreen. Tesla has also had some issues with "phantom touch" on some early Model 3 sedans, but it was cured with a software update.
Tesla remains committed to a screen-centric interface. It recently unveiled a revamped Model S and Model X with a larger portrait-oriented screen and almost no analog controls, even for basic functions like turn signals and engaging forward or reverse gears. Other automakers seem to be following Tesla's lead, with Mercedes-Benz recently unveiling a 56-inch, dashboard-spanning, display dubbed Hyperscreen.