Toyota's well-known issues with unintended acceleration (whatever the actual root cause) gave the company headaches and cost it millions of dollars for years--in fact, it's still recovering its reputation for safety and reliability. Now Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] may be on the cusp of facing a similar situation if a new complaint proves true.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a complaint report about a Tesla Model S that accelerated out of a residential driveway and onto a 4.5-foot retaining wall while the brake was fully applied.
According to the complaint record, the owner contacted Tesla, and an engineer stated that the "accelerating pedal was stepped on and it accelerated from 18% to 100% in split second" (sic). The complaint then goes on to state that the engineer also claimed the existence of a "built-in safe-guard that the accelerator could not go beyond 92%. The statements are contradictory."
The complaint was filed on September 24, 2013. According to the VIN number in the complaint's details, the Model S is an 85-kWh 2013 model built at the Fremont plant.
As yet, however, it's too early to evaluate the veracity of this complaint. As with Toyota, and, in the 1980s, Audi, many of the unintended acceleration incidents reported were in fact caused by driver error--most commonly mistaking the accelerator for the brake. Believing they were pressing the brake pedal while actually standing on the accelerator, the drivers complained of "unintended acceleration."
The lack of intention in this case is clear; the cause, however, is not.
It's important to note that the mere filing of a complaint does not amount to evidence of any fault in a vehicle. Complaints can be filed online by owners, directly with the NHTSA.
If the complaint is supported by other complaints, and the NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) determines that a safety-related defect trend exists, then steps are taken to investigate the matter further, possibly resulting in a recall or other action.
In 2010, prior to the development and release of the Model S, Tesla announced it had hired ex-Toyota engineer Gilbert Passin, who was previously Toyota's North American manufacturing chief and ex-vice-president of manufacturing at the Cambridge, Ontario plant where the Matrix and Corolla models subject to Toyota's sudden acceleration recall were built.
The full text of the unintended acceleration complaint is below.
Date Complaint Filed: 09/24/2013
Component(s): ELECTRICAL SYSTEM , ENGINE , SERVICE BRAKES Date of Incident: 09/21/2013
NHTSA ID Number: 10545230
Manufacturer: Tesla Motors, Inc
Vehicle Identification No. (VIN): 5YJSA1CN9DF...
THE CAR WAS GOING AT ABOUT 5 MPH GOING DOWN A SHORT RESIDENTIAL DRIVEWAY. BRAKE WAS CONSTANTLY APPLIED. THE CAR SUDDENLY ACCELERATED. IT HIT A CURB AND THE MIDDLE PORTION OF THE CAR LANDED ON A 4.5 FT HIGH VERTICAL RETAINING WALL. THE WALL IS ONE FOOT AWAY FROM THE CURB. THE FRONT PORTION OF THE CAR WAS HANGING UP IN THE AIR. THE CAR WAS AT ABOUT 45 DEGREE UP AND ABOUT 20 DEGREE TILTED TOWARD THE RIGHT SIDE. AN ENGINEER FROM TESLA SAID THE RECORD SHOWED THE ACCELERATING PEDAL WAS STEPPED ON AND IT ACCELERATED FROM 18% TO 100% IN SPLIT SECOND. HE BLAMED MY WIFE STEPPING ON THE ACCELERATING PEDAL. BUT HE ALSO SAID THERE WAS A BUILT-IN SAFE-GUARD THAT THE ACCELERATOR COULDNOT GO BEYOND 92%. THE STATEMENTS ARE CONTRADICTORY. IF THERE IS A SAFEGUARD THAT THE ACCELERATOR CANNOT GO BEYOUND 92%, THERE WOULD BE NO WAY THAT MY WIFE COULD STEP ON IT 100%. THERE WERE SOME MECHANICAL PROBLEM THAT CAUSED THE ACCELERATOR TO ACCELERATE ON ITS OWN FROM 18% TO 100% IN SPLIT SECOND.