Electric vehicle pioneer Tesla is grappling with a recall involving certain 2021-2023 Model S and Model X vehicles due to potential safety concerns stemming from the installation of incorrect airbags. The recall, a rare move for the Elon Musk-led company, comes after Tesla offered customers the option to switch from the controversial yoke steering wheel to a traditional round one for a fee, a service that quickly sold out in eight days.
The recall notice, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), highlights the possibility that Tesla service technicians may have inadvertently installed the wrong airbag variant when replacing the steering yoke or round steering wheel with a different style. The airbag mismatch poses a safety risk, as it is designed differently for each steering wheel style.
The NHTSA report describes the issue, stating, “During vehicle servicing of certain vehicles to retrofit the vehicle with the alternate steering wheel per the customer's request, a round steering wheel may have been equipped with a driver airbag variant designed for the yoke steering wheel airbag, and a yoke steering wheel may have been equipped with a driver airbag variant designed for the round steering wheel.”
Tesla, acknowledging the safety implications, has committed to physically inspecting all affected vehicles and replacing the incorrect airbags with the appropriate ones at no cost to the owners.
The controversy surrounding Tesla's yoke steering wheel dates back to its debut in 2021 as the sole option for the refreshed Model S and Model X. However, customer feedback prompted Tesla to reconsider, leading to the introduction of a round steering wheel as the standard specification for both vehicles in January 2023, with the yoke offered as a no-cost option. Subsequent changes in September saw the yoke becoming a $1,000 option, reflecting the evolving preferences and challenges associated with unconventional steering designs.