The Feds Are Reviewing A Petition To Investigate Tesla Over 'Unintended Acceleration'

Illustration for article titled The Feds Are Reviewing A Petition To Investigate Tesla Over Unintended Acceleration
Photo: Kristen Lee (Jalopnik)
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?

Speedy Teslas, GM invests $40 million in engines, and Fiat is partnering with the iPhone manufacturer to build, what’s that? Oh yes, cars, Fiat wants to build cars. With the iPhone manufacturer. All that and more in The Morning Shift for January 17, 2020.

Advertisement

1st Gear: I’m Skeptical

Okay, so, the topline NHTSA is reviewing a petition involving “unintended acceleration” from pretty much every car ever made by Tesla. Here’s Reuters:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Friday it will review a petition asking the agency to formally investigate 500,000 Tesla Inc models over sudden unintended acceleration reports.

The petition covers 2012 through 2019 model year Tesla Model S, 2016 through 2019 Tesla Model X, and 2018 through 2019 Tesla Model 3 vehicles, the agency said. The petition cites “127 consumer complaints to NHTSA involving 123 unique vehicles. The reports include 110 crashes and 52 injuries,” the agency added. Tesla did not immediately comment Friday.

Advertisement

Here’s some more details about the petition and review, from NHTSA itself:

On December 19, 2019, the Office of Defects Investigation received a defect petition by email requesting a defect investigation of alleged sudden unintended acceleration in model year 2012 through 2019 Tesla Model S, MY 2016 through 2019 Tesla Model X, and MY 2018 through 2019 Tesla Model 3 vehicles. In support of his request, the petitioner cited 127 consumer complaints to NHTSA involving 123 unique vehicles. The reports include 110 crashes and 52 injuries.

That’s all well and fine, and I support the mission of federal regulators to ensure people don’t die. Always a good goal, that whole not-dying thing.

But I’m enormously skeptical of “unintended acceleration” claims in general. Most everyone remembers the “controversy” involving Toyota and the issue, which despite tons of attention, was mostly shown to be cases of elderly drivers confusing pedals.

Advertisement

And when it comes to Teslas and “unintended acceleration,” I’m even more skeptical. Teslas own systems have redundancies built-in, and when a failure occurs, the way the throttle system is designed would pretty much only allow the car to not move at all, not launch forward with sudden, unplanned vigor, as we wrote about when investigating one such case back in 2017:

Leaving aside for a minute that a dirty throttle sensor would actually result in a loss of demanded power, rather than an increase, I emailed Tesla to see if they had any comment on this specific complaint. And it turns out, Tesla says that it was inaccurate, too. Tesla isn’t using a single-sensor pedal at all.

“The accelerator pedal that Tesla uses contains two sensors and has 6 wires,” a Tesla spokesperson told me. “In the case of a fault on either sensor, the system enters a failsafe condition.”

Advertisement

If dirt or debris got on the sensor, the system would only be physically capable of producing less power, not more power, Tesla and independent experts that we spoke to at the time agreed. There’s a lot that’d valid to criticize Tesla over, from its labor practices to its arguably reckless attitude towards self-driving technology. But I’m still wary when it comes to this sort of thing.

We’ll see if anything comes from this one. I’ll be surprised if anything does.

2nd Gear: Fiat Wants To Partner With Foxconn

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a maker of Italian but also American (and maybe French?) cars, wants to partner with Foxconn, a Chinese electronics manufacturer mostly known as the company that actually assembles iPhones for Apple and also a spate of worker suicides but also anti-suicide nets to catch workers jumping from buildings, to make cars. Here’s the Detroit News:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV wants to develop and produce electric and internet-connected vehicles in China with the main assembler of Apple Inc.’s smartphones, as the automaker looks to make up for lagging technology.

Foxconn Technology Co. Ltd. on Thursday said in a filing in Taiwan, where it is based, that it plans to establish a joint venture with Fiat Chrysler in which the automaker would own 50% of the partnership. A contract, however, has yet to be signed.

[...]

The cooperation with Foxconn would combine innovation, research, development and manufacturing efforts between the two companies “to enhance industrial advantages,” Foxconn, which is known formally as Hon Hai Precision Ind. Co. Ltd., said in the filing. It would hold 40% or less of the joint venture. The companies also would establish a common office.

Advertisement

Making cars is hard, and it’s a lot different from making handheld electronics. Presumably, FCA would do a lot of the leg work to bring Foxconn up to speed, but as Tesla itself has demonstrated time and time again, “cars” and “tech” are two wildly different manufacturing beasts. Not to mention that car sales in China are way down, so there are some uphill struggles to overcome for both companies.

Plus the whole “worker suicide” thing was like ten years ago. No one today was even born back then.

Advertisement

3rd Gear: GM Investing Big Money In Big V8s

While the world is, in fact, melting, big SUVs are still selling like hotcakes. And General Motors, a manufacturer of big SUVs, wants to give the people what they want. It is accordingly pouring $40 million into its plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, to manufacturer even more engines for big SUVs, Nashville’s local Fox affiliate reports:

General Motors announced a $40 million investment in the Spring Hill Global Propulsion Systems (GPS) plant Thursday.

The investment will go toward increasing capacity of the 5.3L V8 engines for GM’s full-size truck and SUV programs. The specific engine is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission available for full-size trucks and SUVs like the Chevrolet Silverado, Tahoe and Suburban.

Advertisement

Yay for jobs, I guess.

4th Gear: GM Has A New Chief Sustainability Officer

Hot on the heels of a $40 million investment into 5.3-liter V8 engines, GM has announced the new role of “chief sustainability officer” to ease its transition to a lineup with more all-electric offerings, the Detroit News says:

General Motors Co. has named Dane Parker its chief sustainability officer, a newly created position intended to accelerate the company’s plans to meet its zero-emissions goals.

Parker’s new position, effective Feb. 1, expands his current role as vice president of sustainable workplaces and makes him the leader of the company’s sustainability strategy, including electric vehicles, the automaker said Thursday.

The new position comes as GM prepares to convert the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant for electric vehicle production. The company also is purchasing property for a new battery-cell manufacturing plant in Ohio as it prepares to roll out 20 new all-electric models by 2023.

Advertisement

You know what, the whole big-V8-engines-for-even-more-trucks thing aside, GM’s efforts to electrify should be applauded. Of course, it should’ve made moves like this 20 years ago, but we have to work with what we’ve got now.

We wish you all the success, Dane!!!!!!!

5th Gear: Back To The Bradley Drawing Board

The Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a troop carrier that is deeply flawed, needs to be replaced. Let’s check on how that’s going, with Reuters:

The U.S. Army will go back to the drawing board after an effort to replace the Bradley fighting vehicle proved too challenging for industry, a Pentagon official said on Thursday.

The U.S Army has embarked on an ambitious modernization task focusing its efforts and funds on six priorities including a better way to precisely fire weapons over a long distance, a new combat vehicle, a new helicopter, better missile defenses and networks.

Advertisement

Here’s a fun watch at what happened when they tried to design the Bradley itself, many many years ago. It did not go well.

Reverse: I Wonder Whatever Happened To This Car I Have Never Heard Of, The ‘Corvette’

America’s sportscar, the Chevrolet Corvette, was introduced on this day in 1953 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City during the GM Motorama.

Advertisement

Neutral: Have You Ever Experienced ‘Unintended Acceleration?’

If so, what happened?

Deputy Editor, Jalopnik. 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

Neutral: I have experienced “unintentional acceleration.” It was in the late 1990s after I’d only been driving for a year or two. I hit Resume on the cruise control in my 1989 Bonneville within a couple mph of the set point, at which point it floored the gas and just kept accelerating well past the set point. When I couldn’t get it to cancel, I popped the car into Neutral, shut it off, started it again, and then kept going.

It wasn’t until several cars later I used cruise control again.