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Rash of auto recalls raises questions about safety, electric cars

A recent flurry of automobile recalls is raising new safety concerns, including questions about the reliability of Tesla’s electric vehicles.

Hundreds of thousands of Tesla, Hyundai, Kia, Porsche and Audi vehicles have been recalled this week. But Tesla, the nation’s largest maker of electric cars and SUVs, is drawing the most attention from safety watchdogs and government regulators after allegedly dodging concerns for years.

“If a company is pushing safety limits, then the government should fine it,” said William Wallace, manager of safety policy for the nonprofit safety watchdog Consumer Reports. “But Tesla finally seems to be taking responsibility for issues we have known about for a while.”

Tesla said Thursday it was recalling 579,000 of its 2020-2022 Model X, S and Y cars in the U.S. after learning that sounds from their “Boombox” function can override the pedestrian warnings that federal law requires for electric cars. The Texas-based electric car company cited a December 2020 software update for the recall, which also includes some 2017-2022 Model 3 vehicles.

That marks the fourth recall Tesla has announced in the past two weeks, two of them software-related and the other two stemming from violations of federal motor safety standards.

Business consultant Hans Dau, CEO of the Mitchell Madison Group, said the spike in recalls could stem from manufacturers such as Tesla cutting corners during the supply chain crisis.

“Vehicle recalls may be related to automakers scrambling to scale production rapidly and potentially substituting parts based on availability in the global supply chain,” Mr. Dau said. “Tesla seems to be in a particularly tough spot.”

Mr. Dau pointed to a report last month from the TUV association — the agency that performs all government-required car inspections in Germany — that included electric cars for the first time. It found that Tesla Model S, BMW i3, Renault Zoe and Smart For Two Electric Drive (now EQ ForTwo) commonly had problems with their brakes, lights, wishbones and axle suspensions.

“In Germany, where all vehicles over three years must be inspected by certified TUV association inspectors according to government standards, Tesla’s Model S fared particularly poorly, ranking 126 out of 128 vehicles with an average defect rate of 11.7% compared to 4.7% for BMW’s i3 and around 2% for the top five nonelectric vehicles,” Mr. Dau said.

That means that while the other three electric vehicles had average test results, more than 10% of Tesla’s electric cars failed their first inspections in Germany, the testing agency found.

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