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Tesla Removed Steering ECUs Required to Support More Advanced Versions of ‘Full Self-Driving' Due to Semiconductor Shortages, Sources Claim

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【Summary】As automakers around the world struggled with semiconductor shortages last year, electric vehicle leader Tesla Inc seemed to weather the shortage better than its rivals. But behind the scenes, Tesla made some bold decisions to remove redundant steering hardware designed to support level-3 driver assist features, sources claim.

Eric Walz    Mar 17, 2022 12:30 PM PT
Tesla Removed Steering ECUs Required to Support More Advanced Versions of ‘Full Self-Driving' Due to Semiconductor Shortages, Sources Claim

As automakers around the world struggled with semiconductor shortages last year, electric vehicle leader Tesla Inc seemed to weather the shortage better than its rivals. But behind the scenes, Tesla made some bold decisions to remove redundant steering hardware designed to support level-3 driver assist features, according to a report by CNBC.

CNBC reported that Tesla decided to remove one of the two electronic control units (ECUs) included in the steering racks of some made-in-China Model 3 and Model Y cars in order to complete final assembly and help meet its fourth quarter and 2021 sales goals. The decision was made as a result of the ongoing chip shortages.

However Tesla did not disclose this to customers that took delivery of the affected vehicles, which included Model 3 sedans and Model Y SUVs.

Tens of thousands of these vehicles were eventually shipped to customers in China, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and other parts of Europe, the report said, citing two employees and an internal correspondence viewed by CNBC. The  people asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.

Tesla refrained from notifying customers since the part in question is considered a redundant backup and not needed for its current level 2 driver-assistance features, the report said. It's not clear if Tesla would make similar changes to the cars built in or shipped to the United States.

However, the redundant steering electronics are required to support Tesla's more advanced Level 3 automated driving features, according to employees. 

CNBC reported that Tesla employees said that adding "level 3" functionality would require dual electronic control unit systems for steering and therefore the vehicle affected will require a future service visit to install the necessary hardware.

Vehicles capable of semi-autonomous driving, including Tesla models, are equipped with redundant electric systems to prevent any single point failure that could cause systems to malfunction.

It's important to note that the exclusion of the ECU will not cause safety issues, since its primarily used as a backup system. For Tesla, omitting the control unit will also save Tesla money near-term, as long as no problems arise as a result of the altered system.

Most of the cars with the single electronic control unit were shipped to customers in China at first, where FSD is not seeing significant uptake, according to CNBC.

According to internal communications viewed by CNBC, just over 1% of all Tesla customers in China opted for the premium driver assistance package when they placed an order for their vehicles.

The feature is advertised as "Enhanced Auto Assisted Driving" on Tesla's China website and costs $5,027 extra for the Model 3. Tesla's more advanced FSD costs an additional $10,055, but it is not yet available.

More recently, tens of thousands of the affected vehicles were exported to countries outside of China, including in Germany, Australia, the UK and other European regions, employees told CNBC.

Tesla pushed U.S. customers last month to order its more advanced Full Self-Driving (FSD) software before the price increased on Jan 17 from $10,000 to $12,000

Once FSD is out of beta and ready for release, customers can download it via an OTA software update to their vehicles. Customers can also subscribe to Tesla's FSD feature by paying a monthly fee of $199.

A small group of "beta testers" are currently testing out the new FSD software. The vehicles using the beta software provides valuable feedback to Tesla so the company also can make incremental improvements before widespread release.

Tesla does not disclose in its quarterly earnings report exactly how many of its customers pay for FSD up-front or subscribe to FSD each quarter.

But the problem for Tesla now is that the vehicles lacking the necessary steering electronics cannot be upgraded to more advanced versions of FSD unless the components are added back, according to people familiar with the matter.

Tesla employees told CNBC that if the company launches a more sophisticated "hands-free" FSD update that's long been promised by Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, owners with the affected cars who use that premium system will need to get a steering rack retrofit from a Tesla service center.

Tesla owners can still still use the current "level 2" versions of its driver assistance systems, Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (or FSD), without the dual-control steering system.

Tesla employees also told CNBC that the company spent less than a few weeks discussing the change before removing the redundant system due to chip scarcity. At the time, Tesla viewed the decision as more of a "chip-famine survival tactic".

Despite the semiconductor shortage that has affected the vehicle production of legacy automakers, Tesla had its best sales year ever last year, selling 936,000 EVs globally.


resource from: CNBC

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