By on October 23, 2020

Tesla is recalling some 30,000 imported Model S and Model X vehicles in China over claimed defects in the suspension. According to China’s State Administration for Market Regulation, cars manufactured between September 2013 and January 2018 suffered from two distinct issues, with some vehicles having both.

But, almost as quickly as the story was brought to our attention, Tesla announced the accusations were baseless and the recall was being forced by the Chinese government. The group that’s being recalled accounts for most of the American-made EVs shipped to China by the brand. Since Tesla started manufacturing in Shanghai in 2020, U.S. exports have slowed to a trickle. The automaker seemed to hint that there may be political reasons behind the decision but stopped short of saying it wouldn’t comply with Chinese regulators.

Though, if the decision were purely political and designed to frame Shanghai build vehicles as superior, we’re left wondering why China didn’t bother to recall vehicles manufactured in 2019. It’s also curious that other markets hadn’t bothered to conduct investigations of their own, especially since Tesla uses the same suspension parts around the world.

We’re slightly flummoxed here. But the automaker did launch an investigation of its own in 2016, as did the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) before deciding that there was nothing wrong with its suspension components. Since Tesla doesn’t normally respond to requests for comment and has axed the department that would have handled such things, we’re left using the NHTSA as the main source of information.

The company reached out to the U.S. agency to notify it of the Chinese recall, stating that the matter was overblown. According to a letter from Elizabeth H. Mykytiuk, Tesla’s managing counsel for regulatory affairs, obtained by Electrek, the automaker believes it was strong-armed into an unnecessary action. The EV firm told the NHTSA that the alleged suspension failures occurred in fewer than 0.05 percent of vehicles owned outside of China and only about 0.1 percent of all units sold in the PRC.

“Due to the opinion of SAMR/DPAC that the topic required a recall in the China market, Tesla was left with the choice of either voluntarily recalling the subject vehicles or carrying a heavy burden through the Chinese administrative process,” she wrote. “While Tesla disagrees with the opinion of SAMR/DPAC, the Company has decided not to dispute a recall for the China market only.”

“Tesla has not determined that a defect exists in either the Front Suspension Aft Link or the Rear Suspension Upper Link and believes the root cause of the issue is driver abuse, including that driver usage and expectation for damageability is uniquely severe in the China market. If the customer inputs an abuse load (e.g., curb impact, severe pothole strike, etc.), then the parts may be damaged, leading either to immediate failure or delayed failure from the compounding effects of the initial abuse and subsequent load input.”

While it may be unfair to place the blame entirely on Chinese drivers, the nation’s automotive infrastructure is famous for having some of the worst roadworks planning in the world. There are hundreds of crash compilations featuring these bizarre construction decisions online, often illustrating how they’ll directly contribute to accidents. But we cannot say with any real authority that this was a contributing factor in the Tesla recall. The sheer volume of people in China is bound to elevate the number of crash videos it produces and there are plenty of other countries with similar logistical problems.

Meanwhile, anyone who has driven in Michigan will tell you the state’s above-average speed limits combined with seasonally enhanced potholes can really do a number on a car’s suspension. Yours truly has also discovered a sizable portion of New York and Rhode Island roads that appear to have been bombed in some unrecorded war.

We’ll likely have to remain in the dark until Chinese regulators get more specific about the nature of the recall or Tesla decides to get more vocal about the issue. But we’re not holding our breath. By moving on the recall after denying its validity, Tesla has already signaled it doesn’t want to rock the boat in what’s currently the largest vehicle market in the entire world.

[Image: B.Zhou/Shuterstock]

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14 Comments on “Tesla Recalling 30,000 Cars Exported to China, Claims They’re Fine...”

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Since PRC and Tesla both have well-earned reputations for providing false and misleading statements, I don’t believe we will ever really know what is going on here. I can live with that.

  • avatar

    Agreed, but this looks like the start of bad things for Tesla in China. I’m speculating that in a few years, the Chinese will own the Tesla plant and have all the technology to make their own “Teslas” there.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry


      When Musk announced plans to manufacture in China, he claimed his arrangements are NOT like those that China has with other Western manufacturers…Musk claims his IP remains proprietary to Tesla, and not shared with Chinese partners. While that sounds wonderful, like many other pronouncments from Musk, it seems too good to be true. Yes, I too believe Musk’s Great Chinese Adventure will NOT end well.

      • 0 avatar

        The fact that Tesla doesn’t have any Chinese partners is a drawback for Tesla, since the Chinese government doesn’t have any leverage or control over them. Also, as the Chinese manufacturers build more cars and want more market share, the Chinese government will squeeze foreign manufacturers, buying them out or forcing them out.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t think of any companies that weren’t “screwed” by the Chinese when they partnered with them to access the Chinese market.

      Having your IP stolen is part of the cost of doing business in China.

      Cisco years ago struggled with grey market products that looked identical to the real thing. We got stuck with a bunch of interface cards that had legit serial numbers – that didn’t belong to us.

      Could Cisco have prevented this? Sure, but they also didn’t want to lose the Chinese market for their telecom products. I suppose they just shrugged their shoulders and let their customers deal with the fallout.

      Musk is not an idiot. He knows the likes of BYD and Geely are copying his technology as we speak. He’s going to make as much money in China as he can until the CCP throws him out of the country.

      Every single foreign car manufacturer has had their designs stolen by the Chinese – Tesla will be no different.

  • avatar

    Tesla “whompy wheels” are all over the internet, and I seriously doubt all these broken aluminum suspension pics are faked. Tesla has technology, but not quality, because they were inexperienced in mass production techniques.
    And in a couple more years you’ll see a bunch of these $50,000 model 3s rusting like old Vegas because their paint shop in Fremont was a mess.

    • 0 avatar

      @indifan: I’ve seen plenty of Model S suspension related posts as well. I’m not a huge fan of the S. I think the 3 and Y quality issues are related to pushing the line a little too fast. It’s not just the paint. They miss fasteners and even properly installing the roof. That’s the sort of stuff I’d see when GMAD would start pushing the line a little beyond its limit. The workers can’t keep up. I think the cars coming out of Austin and Berlin will be much better. They’ve hopefully figured out how to build them and have a better designed vehicle. I’m trying to hang on until I can get an Austin car. If I can’t wait and have to get a Fremont car, I’ll get a lower end car and have it post purchase inspected by a local Tesla independent.

      With BMW, I used to have issues with suspension wear. I’ve even seen an early E-36 coupe with super thin rear shock tower sheet metal that failed. I’ve also had the clearcoat delaminate on my 7 series. Then, there was the crappy paper thin leather. So, I’ve experienced all of these problems before. Not happy about it, but I have the attitude that all performance oriented cars are going to have some sort of issue.

    • 0 avatar

      Tesla may have designed those suspension parts, but I’m sure they don’t manufacture them – someone else makes them, whether it’s Magna, Federal Mogul, or someone else.

      • 0 avatar

        Are you sure, sure? Because I did read one story where Tesla got fined 90 grand by CAL-OSHA for three guys that got burned when an aluminum die casting machine malfunctioned (interlocks were faulty due to lack of maintenance) and it said they were making suspension components.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s apparent that the failures are a real thing, I’m not sure what the threshold is to trigger a recall for such a catastrophic failure but 0.1% of the population seems significant regardless of the underlying cause.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “The EV firm told the NHTSA that the alleged suspension failures occurred in fewer than 0.05 percent of vehicles owned outside of China and only about 0.1 percent of all units sold in the PRC.”

    That’s a very high failure rate. Tesla needs to address this, but because it’s expensive, they won’t.

  • avatar

    What are Tesla’s options in a recall situation? Must they replace the suspect components with improved parts? Or is it enough to check the parts for wear, and replace them with identical new parts if worn?

    If this leads to an improved design for a failure-prone component, and that improved design being installed on the line and in repairs, Tesla owners should send a bouquet to Chinese regulators.

    • 0 avatar

      I guess they could zyglo the parts in place, but that takes a lot of labor and some skills not often found in the auto repair bay. Cheaper to replace with validated new ones I’d think.

  • avatar

    Chinese government gave them special treatment coming in. This is just checking their authority asking to go “Fetch a cup of water” to see how Elon will comply.

    So much of Korean IP from Ssanyong motors to LCD’s, semi conductors etc, get poached and gutted for IP. This will not play any different.

    Honestly these mainland rich chinese guys think of themselves as God with fear of nothing except money and their CCP peers.

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