Feds Demand Answers From Tesla Over ‘Concerning’ Autopilot Recall

Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)
Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, May 8, 2024, and this is The Morning Shift, your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: NHTSA Launches Probe Into Tesla’s Autopilot Recall

Tesla can’t catch a break right now. If it’s not layoffs sweeping the company and gutting departments like Supercharging, then it’s falling profits and government inquiries into the safety of its software. Now, it’s the latter that’s come back to bite the American electric vehicle maker, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is demanding answers about the safety of Autopilot and Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system.


NHTSA has launched a probe into Tesla’s recall of its cars fitted with Autopilot and Full Self-Drive, which saw it issue a software patch that impacted almost every car it had sold in America. Now, federal regulators have “several concerns” about the handling of the recall. As Reuters reports:

The NHTSA recall investigation covers models Y, X, S, 3 and Cybertruck vehicles in the U.S. equipped with Autopilot produced between the 2012 and 2024 model years.

Tesla, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has said repeatedly that Autopilot does not make vehicles self-driving and is intended for use with a fully attentive driver who is prepared to take over and has hands on the steering wheel.

NHTSA said it had sent Tesla an information request letter, which was made public on Tuesday, seeking details of the recall and documents by July 1.

NHTSA wants comparative data from Tesla on the performance of vehicles after receiving the recall including the number of hands on wheel warnings issued.

Concerns were raised at the federal regulator following 20 crashes that involved Tesla models equipped with the advanced driver assistance technology. NHTSA also tested cars that had gone through Tesla’s own remedy for the recalled issues, and investigators still found issues with the cars.

These involve the way in which drivers activate the assistance tech, with owners able to select whether a single or double pull on the drive stalk sets the software running. NHTSA has also previously called for the automaker to improve the driver engagement systems used while Autopilot is running, with the current system opening up the possibility for a “critical safety gap,” reports Reuters.

2nd Gear: Rvian Losses Grow As Plant Expansion Begins

Tesla isn’t the only electric vehicle startup that’s struggling, though. Rivian has now admitted that losses at the company are widening as it begins to refurbish its factory in preparation for the rollout of a fleet of new models.

The automaker has slowed production at its Illinois plant as it prepares to retool the facility, reports Automotive News. However, the costs of setting up the plant for production of new models like the R2 and R3, which were announced in March, are eating away at the company’s bottom line. As Automotive News explains:

Rivian Automotive, in the midst of a wholesale retooling of its plant in Normal, Ill., said its first-quarter net loss widened to $1.45 billion as revenue nearly doubled to $1.2 billion compared with the same period last year.

The automaker’s net loss in the most recent quarter was 7 percent higher than in the year-earlier period while revenue surged from $661 million, the company said Tuesday.

Shares in Rivian fell 6 percent in after-hours trading to $9.63.

The slowdown in production at the Normal, IL, plant has allowed Rivian to completely retool the facility, which has involved installing new robots and setting up deals with new parts suppliers to cut costs and increase line speed. As a result, Rivian projects that it will assemble 57,000 vehicles at the facility this year.

So far this year, it shipped 13,588 R1t and R1S models out to customers, which marks a 71 percent increase over the same period last year.

3rd Gear: Billions Plowed Into Yet Another Self-Driving Startup

Everyone keeps saying that self-driving cars are going to be the future, just as soon as they’ve learned how to navigate intersections, traffic cones and angry locals. Now, there’s a new billion dollar investment in a self-driving startup that’s hoping to bring this vision to reality.

British startup Wayve has just been handed more than a billion dollars in funding to support its mission to bring self-driving cars to the world’s roads, reports the BBC. The backing comes from high-profile tech companies like Microsoft, as the BBC explains:

It is the largest known investment in an AI company in Europe to date. Wayve says the funding will allow it to help build the autonomous cars of the future.

Wayve is developing technology intended to power future self-driving vehicles by using what it calls “embodied AI”.

Unlike AI models carrying out cognitive or generative tasks such as answering questions or creating pictures, this new technology interacts with and learns from real-world surroundings and environments.

The funding was led by investment banking firm Softbank and includes $1.05bn in backing from companies including Microsoft. Currently, the autonomous vehicle startup has a fleet of electrified Jaguar I-Pace and Mustang Mach-E cars circulating cities across the UK.

4th Gear: Boeing Scrubs The Launch Of Starliner

Let’s round out the news this morning with something a little farther from home, or at least something that should get a little farther from home. Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft was due to launch from a pad in the U.S. yesterday but the liftoff was scrubbed at the last minute due to issues on the rocket that would carry the mission into orbit.

The Starliner launch was due to be the first crewed mission to use the probe, which has been in development at Boeing for years. As NBC News explains:

Boeing’s Starliner capsule had been scheduled to lift off at 10:34 p.m. ET from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on its first crewed test flight. NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams were on board the capsule and strapped into their seats when the launch attempt was called off, roughly two hours ahead of the planned liftoff.

NASA announced early Tuesday that a second attempt would occur no earlier than Friday.

Mission controllers declared Monday’s launch “scrub” after an anomaly was detected on a valve on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, which the Starliner capsule was to ride into orbit.

The Atlas V rocket that Starliner was due to launch on was also developed by Boeing, but it was built in collaboration with aerospace company Lockheed Martin. Experts will now inspect the rocket before a second launch attempt can be made. NBC News reports that they must determine whether a pressure regulation valve on the rocket’s upper stage must be replaced.

Reverse: Who’s Your Bond?

On The Radio: Dave - ‘Panic Attack’

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