The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made the unusual request in a formal letter to Tesla after upgrading a safety probe in November, saying it had tentatively concluded the 2012-18 Model S and 2016-18 Model X vehicles “contain a defect related to motor vehicle safety”.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment but it must respond to NHTSA by January 27. If it does not agree it must provide the agency “with a full explanation of its decision”.
It is unusual for the agency to formally demand a recall. Automakers typically voluntarily agree to a recall if sought in discussions by regulators.
The agency said it sought the recall after considering “Tesla’s technical briefing presentation … and evaluated Tesla’s assertions”.
NHTSA said “during our review of the data, Tesla provided confirmation that all units will inevitably fail given the memory device’s finite storage capacity”.
NHTSA said other automakers have issued numerous recalls for similar safety issues, the agency told Tesla, including a detailed list of prior callbacks.
The agency said touchscreen failures posed significant safety issues, including the loss of rearview/backup camera images. It noted nine recalls by other automakers for similar problems.
The Tesla vehicles that lose touchscreen use may see driver assistance Autopilot system and turn signal functionality impacted due to potential loss of audible chimes, driver sensing, and alerts associated with these vehicle functions, NHTSA said.
It said loss of alerts tied to systems such as Autopilot “increases the risk of a crash occurring because drivers may be unaware of system malfunctions”.