U.S. Launches Probe Into Touchscreen Failure In Tesla Model S Cars

U.S. safety regulators have opened a preliminary inquiry into reports of problems with the touchscreens of luxury electric car maker Tesla Inc.'s Model S cars. The investigation covers 63,000 Model S vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA said that the Office of Defects Investigation or ODI received eleven complaints alleging that failures of the media control unit led to loss of use of the touchscreens in these vehicles.

The agency said it will investigate the failures in the 2012 through 2015 Tesla Model S vehicles. The complaints were received over the past 13 months.

The display control unit sub-assembly of the MCU is an NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor with an integrated 8GB eMMC NAND flash memory device. The flash memory devices have a finite lifespan, based upon the number of program and erase cycles.

The complaints allege premature failure of the media control units or MCU due to memory wear-out of the flash memory devices.

A complete unit failure could result in loss of audible and visual features provided by the touchscreen, such as infotainment, navigation, and web browsing. This includes loss of rear camera image display when reverse gear is selected, resulting in reduced rear visibility when backing.

The failure could also lead to climate controls defaulting to an auto mode, and limits on battery charging current and maximum state of charge when recharging. However, the failure does not impact vehicle control systems such as braking, steering, speed control, or supplemental restraint systems.

The NHTSA noted that Tesla used the same media control unit with the Tegra 3 processor in almost 159 thousand 2012-2018 Model S vehicles as well as 2016-2018 Model X vehicles built by the company through early 2018.

According to the agency, the media control unit failures resulting from memory wear-out are likely to occur after periods of progressively degraded performance, such as longer power-up times, more frequent touchscreen resets, intermittent loss of cellular connectivity, or loss of navigation.

Investigators will assess the scope, frequency, and safety consequences of the alleged defect.

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