© AP

Move fast and break things” doesn’t work quite so well when it comes to building cars, as it turns out.

Via Reuters:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Wednesday asked Tesla Inc to recall 158,000 Model S and Model X vehicles over media control unit (MCU) failures that could pose safety risks by leading to touchscreen displays not working.

The auto safety agency made the unusual request in a formal letter to Tesla after upgrading a safety probe in November, saying it had tentatively concluded the 2012-2018 Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles “contain a defect related to motor vehicle safety.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment but it must respond to NHTSA by Jan. 27. If it does not agree it must provide the agency “with a full explanation of its decision.”

It is unusual for the agency to formally demand a recall. Automakers typically voluntarily agree to a recall if sought in discussions by regulators.

The NHTSA letter can be found here.

There isn’t much to add here. Obviously, the story speaks to the well-documented problems Tesla has, and continues to have, in consistently manufacturing vehicles to the standards set by its gas-guzzling competitors. And, given the issues with the Model X’s and S’s screens are well known, it won’t be much of a surprise to its current crop of shareholders that a recall is due.

In a way, it probably won’t be much of a surprise to Tesla either. Here’s a passage from Ed Niedermeyer’s book Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors, about the problems inherent putting a giant laptop screen in a car in the first place:

It’s not clear what tests Tesla subjected its screens to when qualifying them for use in their cars, but we do know that the Innolux G170J1-LE1 they use in Model S and X is an industrial screen whose initial specs were not up to basic “automotive grade” standards. Located under a large glass roof, and with multiple processors and a heater core packed behind it in the dash, Tesla put the G170J1-LE1 in a thermal sandwich it wasn’t designed for. A car’s dashboard can reach the screen’s 80 degrees celsius (176 degrees farenheit) maximum operating temperature, even without help from the processors needed to power the infotainment and Autopliot or extra solar radiation from a glass roof.

So in practice it was a bad idea. The screens weren’t designed for cars, and it’s proven to be the case that they are unsuitable for them. Then again, looking at where the company is now, maybe it was good idea after all?

For one, this manufacturing defect, alongside a litany of others, doesn’t seem to have bee detrimental to Tesla’s brand. The kool-aid has been drunk, and the company seems positively invincible to even well-trusted assessments of the company’s dreadful reliability.

So what’s a few screen failures between friends when you consider the upside for the company? Tesla’s central screen has come to signify everything that made it stand out from the other car brands -- whether we’re talking about tech, design, or ease of use. In turn, this has helped it to create a perception that its technology is radically better than the other OEMs. In reality however, as with its Full Self Driving tech, the main differentiator is really an attitude to safety.

So even if Tesla does recall these 158,000 vehicles in the end -- and the NHTSA’s case does look strong -- the benefits of the screen to the brand (and the share price) have clearly outweighed the costs.

Will there ever come a point in which the problems with Tesla’s cars -- from the screens to the faulty suspensions to the thin paint finishes -- overwhelm the company’s pristine brand? Maybe that’s just a boneheaded question.

Related Links:
Tesla's Screen Saga Shows Why Automotive Grade Matters -- The Drive

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