As automakers cope with the global chip shortage, they’ve had to implement creative problem-solving to release new models from factory gates. Some brands have resorted to temporarily removing functions, such as seat heaters, engine stop-start systems and dual-zone climate control, to circumvent the low supply of semiconductors.
Now we can add Tesla to that list of companies. According to a new report by CNBC, the EV manufacturer has been building select made-in-China and without a particular steering-rack electronic control unit.
It’s not immediately clear how many vehicles are impacted. The original report says that “tens of thousands of vehicles being shipped to customers in China, Australia, the UK, Germany, and other parts of Europe” have been affected. It is also not clear if Tesla has made any similar decisions regarding vehicles produced or sold in the US or Canada.
According to the report, CNBC spoke with a pair of unnamed employees and was privy to internal company correspondence discussing the matter. The internal report indicated that the missing steering-rack ECU is not necessary for regular safe driving, as the component is considered an electronic redundancy in “normal driving scenarios.”
However, the affected Model 3 and Model Y vehicles will not be able to use certain future iterations of Full Self-Driving technology, Tesla’s partially automated advanced driver-assist system. Despite its misleading name, FSD is currently a Level 2 technology, and there are no self-driving cars on the market today. Potential Level 3 hands-free applications of the tech, with higher degrees of automation, won’t be possible without retrofitting the backup electronic controller at a Tesla service center.
CNBC reports that Tesla internally discussed whether to alert customers of the omission, but decided not disclose it because the part was deemed unnecessary for safe normal vehicle operation. It’s also not clear if the automaker found it necessary to consult federal vehicle safety authorities at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before making the change.
Tesla did not respond to Roadshow’s request for comment on this story. It no longer operates a public-relations department to field such media requests like other automakers do.