Tesla is recalling some 30,000 imported Model S and Model X vehicles in China over claimed defects in the suspension. According to China’s State Administration for Market Regulation, cars manufactured between September 2013 and January 2018 suffered from two distinct issues, with some vehicles having both.
But, almost as quickly as the story was brought to our attention, Tesla announced the accusations were baseless and the recall was being forced by the Chinese government. The group that’s being recalled accounts for most of the American-made EVs shipped to China by the brand. Since Tesla started manufacturing in Shanghai in 2020, U.S. exports have slowed to a trickle. The automaker seemed to hint that there may be political reasons behind the decision but stopped short of saying it wouldn’t comply with Chinese regulators.
Though, if the decision were purely political and designed to frame Shanghai build vehicles as superior, we’re left wondering why China didn’t bother to recall vehicles manufactured in 2019. It’s also curious that other markets hadn’t bothered to conduct investigations of their own, especially since Tesla uses the same suspension parts around the world.
We’re slightly flummoxed here. But the automaker did launch an investigation of its own in 2016, as did the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) before deciding that there was nothing wrong with its suspension components. Since Tesla doesn’t normally respond to requests for comment and has axed the department that would have handled such things, we’re left using the NHTSA as the main source of information.
The company reached out to the U.S. agency to notify it of the Chinese recall, stating that the matter was overblown. According to a letter from Elizabeth H. Mykytiuk, Tesla’s managing counsel for regulatory affairs, obtained by Electrek, the automaker believes it was strong-armed into an unnecessary action. The EV firm told the NHTSA that the alleged suspension failures occurred in fewer than 0.05 percent of vehicles owned outside of China and only about 0.1 percent of all units sold in the PRC.
“Due to the opinion of SAMR/DPAC that the topic required a recall in the China market, Tesla was left with the choice of either voluntarily recalling the subject vehicles or carrying a heavy burden through the Chinese administrative process,” she wrote. “While Tesla disagrees with the opinion of SAMR/DPAC, the Company has decided not to dispute a recall for the China market only.”
“Tesla has not determined that a defect exists in either the Front Suspension Aft Link or the Rear Suspension Upper Link and believes the root cause of the issue is driver abuse, including that driver usage and expectation for damageability is uniquely severe in the China market. If the customer inputs an abuse load (e.g., curb impact, severe pothole strike, etc.), then the parts may be damaged, leading either to immediate failure or delayed failure from the compounding effects of the initial abuse and subsequent load input.”
While it may be unfair to place the blame entirely on Chinese drivers, the nation’s automotive infrastructure is famous for having some of the worst roadworks planning in the world. There are hundreds of crash compilations featuring these bizarre construction decisions online, often illustrating how they’ll directly contribute to accidents. But we cannot say with any real authority that this was a contributing factor in the Tesla recall. The sheer volume of people in China is bound to elevate the number of crash videos it produces and there are plenty of other countries with similar logistical problems.
Meanwhile, anyone who has driven in Michigan will tell you the state’s above-average speed limits combined with seasonally enhanced potholes can really do a number on a car’s suspension. Yours truly has also discovered a sizable portion of New York and Rhode Island roads that appear to have been bombed in some unrecorded war.
We’ll likely have to remain in the dark until Chinese regulators get more specific about the nature of the recall or Tesla decides to get more vocal about the issue. But we’re not holding our breath. By moving on the recall after denying its validity, Tesla has already signaled it doesn’t want to rock the boat in what’s currently the largest vehicle market in the entire world.