Tesla’s ability to quickly release security patches via over-the-air software updates is an approach other automakers watch with envy, but one that also comes with risks because cars are more like rolling computers.
Investors have attributed Tesla’s leadership on in-car software with a market value of $905 billion (roughly Rs. 67,58,931 crore) that dwarfs traditional automakers, many of which are now scrambling to roll out their own capacity to offer in direct software updates.
However, Tesla’s risk-friendly culture and desire to quickly release cutting-edge technology has also put it on a collision course with U.S. safety regulators, who have launched a series of recalls and investigations into the automaker. car in recent months. The latest included the opening of a formal investigation on Thursday into reports of unexpected brake activation.
“There’s definitely a mindset that you can correct quickly so you can take a higher risk,” said Florian Rohde, a former Tesla validation manager who is now a consultant, of the automaker’s capability. of electric cars to post updates remotely.
This behavior was exemplified earlier this month when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered Tesla to issue a recall to prevent some of its vehicles from making “roll stops” instead of coming to a complete stop. at certain intersections. The feature violated state laws and posed a security risk, the agency said.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, who has a long history of clashes with US security officials, denied there was a security issue with the feature. “The car just slowed down to about 2 mph and kept going if the view was clear with no cars or pedestrians,” Musk said. wrote on Twitter.
But the automaker nevertheless released a software update to disable the feature. NHTSA officials said Thursday they would push for recalls if they believe safety risks may exist in any vehicle.
Tesla said it develops almost all of its software to enable regular over-the-air updates. The automaker has released software updates that control vehicle performance, braking, battery charging, and infotainment features.
Tesla led the auto industry in live recall updates. While nearly all recalls issued by NHTSA since 2020 required physical fixes, seven of Tesla’s 19 recalls since January 2020, or 37%, were addressed with over-the-air software updates, an analysis of public data showed. .
Unlike traditional recalls that require a trip to the dealership, remote updates are less expensive and can ensure that all vehicles receive the required fix. Traditional recalls have shown an average compliance rate of around 70%, with that rate dropping to less than 50% for older cars, according to NHTSA data.
As other automakers rush to offer the same upgrades as Tesla, security experts fear broader over-the-air updates could open the door for automakers lowering their security thresholds by rushing upgrades. immature updates.
“Over-the-air software updates are promising and perilous,” said William Wallace, chief security policy officer at Consumer Reports. “Companies have to be really responsible.”
The dispute over Tesla’s recalls comes as the automaker faces increasing scrutiny from multiple US agencies over its conduct and the personal behavior of CEO Elon Musk. Musk’s attorney on Thursday accused the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission of an “endless” investigation to punish him for criticizing the U.S. government.
The Silicon Valley Mindset
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment, but blamed the agency for “anachronistic regulations.” Analysts wonder if the company’s fast-paced, tech-centric culture could cause problems.
“The problem is, when you try to apply the Silicon Valley mindset to automobiles, it’s a very different situation,” said Guidehouse Insights analyst Sam Abuelsamid, a former automotive software engineer. He added that Tesla should do more internal testing before releasing updates.
But the software shift also raises new challenges for regulators, with some experts questioning whether NHTSA has the expertise to validate modern technology.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that NHTSA has people with the experience and expertise to deal with software issues at this time,” said Don Slavik, a Colorado-based attorney who has consulted in lawsuits. automotive technology lawsuits, many against Tesla. .
NHTSA’s recent investigations into Tesla have focused on the automaker’s Autopilot driver assistance system and what Tesla calls its Full Self-Driving (Beta) software – technology that enables around 60,000 users to Tesla in the United States to test the company’s autonomous technology on public roads.
While the aggressive approach allows Tesla to roll out software updates faster than the competition, “it puts untrained drivers in the position of having to compensate for potential software flaws,” said Philip Koopman, a professor at the Carnegie Mellon University working on autonomous vehicle safety.
Safety advocates warn that Tesla vehicles potentially affect everyone on public roads.
“A two-ton vehicle is not the same as a desktop computer or your laptop breaking down,” Wallace of Consumer Reports said. “Automakers and their suppliers must treat safety-related software as a matter of life and death.”