Tesla is recalling more than 500,000 US electric cars due to a feature that can drown out audible warnings for pedestrians, in the fourth recall made public in two weeks, records showed on Thursday.
The carmaker faces increasing scrutiny from US regulators, as watchdogs have accused Elon Musk’s firm of pushing safety limits, while California has sued Tesla over alleged discrimination and harassment against African-American workers.
US authorities have set specific standards for the sounds that electric and hybrid vehicles must make, which are quieter than vehicles with internal combustion engines, in order to warn pedestrians.
Yet the “Boombox” option launched by Tesla in late 2020, which allows custom sounds like music to be emitted from an outdoor speaker when the car is parked or moving, could interfere with that warning, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found.
This “could increase the risk of a collision,” NHTSA said in a recall report dated February 4, which notes Tesla is not aware of any accidents caused by this problem.
The regulator said about 578,600 cars were potentially involved in the recall, which Tesla plans to solve by remotely updating its software rather than forcing owners to come to service centres.
NHTSA announced on February 1 the recall of nearly 54,000 vehicles to end a drive-assist feature that allows Tesla cars in certain conditions to go through a stop sign without fully stopping.
Two days later it announced a recall of 817,143 vehicles to adjust the seatbelt warning system, which may not activate under certain conditions.
And on Wednesday, the agency announced a recall of 26,681 cars to correct a software error related to a valve in the heat pump that can affect the ability to defrost the windshield.
Tesla has long regularly performed remote software updates without notifying users or regulators.
Meanwhile, state officials in California have sued Tesla, alleging discrimination and harassment against black workers at the electric carmaker’s San Francisco factory, which the complaint called a “racially segregated workplace”.
This is the latest accusation of prejudice at Tesla’s Fremont production site, where a series of female workers filed lawsuits last year alleging sexual harassment and a black worker was awarded $137 million in a racism case.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), which enforces the state’s civil rights laws and filed its suit on Wednesday, said it had received hundreds of complaints from workers.
The agency “found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated against in job assignments, discipline, pay and promotion,” DFEH Director Kevin Kish said in a statement.
- AFP, with additional editing by George Russell