Dozens of Tesla customers have reportedly filed complaints to a Chinese consumer watchdog after discovering older-generation hardware in their domestically made Model 3 rather than the highly anticipated HW3 self-driving computer.

Why it matters: Tesla has become the latest automaker affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. It blamed the hardware “downgrade” to wide shortages in the auto supply chain.

  • Meanwhile, a slew of consumer protests could expose Tesla to risk of lawsuits and hurt its credibility in the world’s largest electric vehicle market.

Details: Chinese Model 3 owners last weekend discovered that their vehicles’ self-driving controlling hardware was the older version 2.5, or HW2.5, instead of the latest driverless computer HW3 which was listed on their sales documents, multiple Chinese media reported.

  • One alleged Tesla owner asked the company for an explanation on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo on Monday, which featured attached images of the part label and sales documents.
  • Two other Weibo users who said they were Tesla owners commented under the post saying that they found themselves in the same situation, but had received no response from the company after accepting deliveries between Feb. 27 and Mar. 1
  • Dozens of Tesla owners later found the same issue and filed complaints to China Consumers Association, a government-backed consumer rights watchdog, reported (in Chinese) National Business Daily.
  • In a statement published on the company’s Weibo account on Tuesday, the carmaker promised that it would retrofit all domestically made Model 3 cars which currently have HW2.5 chips to HW3 once the production and supply chain have fully resumed.
  • The US EV giant said that HW2.5 and HW3 are virtually the same for owners who did not purchase the additional full self-driving (FSD) option, which costs RMB 56,000 (around $8,000).
  • A Weibo user commented under the statement posted by Tesla’s official account, saying if the situation took place in the US, consumers will file class-action lawsuits against it for jackpot payouts. However, “this could be settled with just a Weibo post in China” (our translation).
  • The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Context: Tesla unveiled its “full self-driving” computer, previously known as Autopilot Hardware 3, in April and began offering retrofits to current owners later that year. The FSD chip was installed in all new Model 3 vehicles at that point, it said.

  • The new hardware offers 21 times the computing power compared with the previous generation which used Nvidia chips. A widely anticipated feature, traffic cone recognition, is only available through the software update and self-designed HW3 chip.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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