Tesla’s Model S Safety Solution: Software – 12/5/13

The Center for Auto Safety is the nation’s premier independent, member driven, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy on behalf of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Most automakers typically respond to an investigation by government safety regulators by providing documents, and by approaching federal officials with a certain deference. Tesla, of course, is not a typical automaker.

The electric vehicle (EV) company and its CEO Elon Musk met news of a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation into fires involving the Tesla Model S with a mix of bluster, statistics, and a software upgrade. While these tactics are unorthodox in the staid automotive world, they’re in character for Tesla and particularly for Musk.

In a subsequent back and forth between Tesla and NHTSA, the media mainly focused on the Musk’s role as a maverick raconteur. But little attention has been paid to an important subplot to the melodrama: the way Tesla has ostensibly addressed the issue through an over-the-air (OTA) software update rather than the more common swapping of physical car parts—and how this signals a big shift in the automotive industry.

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