Why Elon Musk Isn't Happy With Tesla Recalls

Tesla is no stranger to recalls, but the latest one affecting a healthy 1.1 million electric cars has apparently stung the company's mercurial CEO Elon Musk. The Tesla chief is not so much flustered about the recall itself, but it's the terminology that has drawn the ire on his favorite social megaphone. Musk claims that "recall" is not really the right term to describe the recent turn of events.

The latest issue plaguing Tesla cars affects the automatic window reversal system. According to the NHTSA, Tesla's power window might fail to react accordingly when it detects an obstruction as it rolls up. As a result, the misfiring mechanism "may exert excessive force by pinching a driver or passenger before retracting, increasing the risk of injury."

The concern is legitimate, but more importantly, the NHTSA is just following its own rules for situations that demand a vehicle recall. Tesla is no exception. In the agency's definition of a recall, such an action is only deemed necessary when a vehicle or any component poses "an unreasonable safety risk or fails to meet minimum safety standards." The subsequent course of corrective action, as prescribed by the NHTSA, is that the carmaker either repair it, replace the faulty parts, offer a refund to the affected car owners, or in extreme cases, buy back the defective car.

Technically, both parties are correct

Now, for a regular car, repair or replacement usually involves physically recalling it to a service station in order to fix the problem. That's not really the case with the Tesla recall situation. The company has promised to fix the faulty window system via software update. The update will be installed when the affected cars are resting in a home or office garage, without any hassle of taking them to a Tesla service center. And that begs the question of whether "recall" is the right term to describe the problem if the solution doesn't actually involve a physical recall. At least Musk thinks it is flawed. "The terminology is outdated & inaccurate," Musk tweeted.

He further added that, so far, no injuries have been reported due to the malfunctioning window system. Musk's criticism seems technically valid, but more than fighting over incorrect terminology, Musk appears frustrated with how the term "recall" will bode for Tesla's reputation. After all, a recall never paints a good picture for a brand and can easily diminish sales. Tesla is not really a darling for the NHTSA or even the U.S. SEC, as Musk has taken public potshots at its leadership and modus operandi. Plus, Tesla cars have had their fair share of recalls in the past couple of years. So it only seems natural that Musk would call out the NHTSA over an issue where Tesla's market character is at stake due to mislabeling.