The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has initiated an investigation into failures of a critical feature in Tesla Model S cars after nearly a dozen reports of problems with the large LCD touchscreen in the vehicles.
At this time, no recall has been announced but Reuters reports NHTSA is looking into 11 complaints that the screens have failed, and they are focusing on 63,000 Tesla vehicles produced between 2012 and 2015. The Model S began serial production in 2012.
While a dash-mounted LCD touch screen has become a common feature in modern cars, they are especially crucial to the operation of many features in a Tesla, but NHTSA also said that the screen failures they are looking into did not affect vehicle control systems in the cutting-edge all-electric sedans.
The vertical 17-inch tablet-like touchscreen in the Model S has been a hallmark of the vehicle since it began production, and many of the car’s features, including navigation, vehicle performance settings, environmental controls (heat, defrost and A/C), Autopilot driver assist settings and more are completely or at least partially controlled through the screen. It also provides a video view behind the car while in reverse or at any time the driver wants a rearward view. More recent features include the ability to watch videos and play video games on the screen while the car is parked. Tesla designed the Model S interior and subsequent models to be as “buttonless” as possible, with almost all of the cars’ controls being moved to the touch screen.
Reuters said that NHTSA is looking at possible causes including the failure of an internal solid-state 8-gigabyte memory module. Like a common thumb drive or SD card, the memory module has no moving parts, but is still subject to wear and eventual failure over time, depending on write and erase cycles during use. The module was made by graphics systems market leader Nvidia and is used in nearly 160,000 Tesla vehicles, including some Model X units produced into 2018.
After trending over $1,000 per share Tuesday, Tesla stock dropped with the overall market decline early Wednesday. However, the stock is still riding near its all-time high and Tesla’s current market cap makes it the world’s most valuable carmaker, but only just. Long-time market leader Toyota has an almost identical market cap and the two companies often trade places depending on the movements of their stock prices.