Tesla said on Saturday it will recall more than 285,000 vehicles in China to address safety concerns in its autopilot system, marking the automaker’s largest recall in the country. Tesla told local news the decision is not linked to previous safety incidents.

Why it matters: The recall raises questions over the carmaker’s future in China. The company’s prestigious image has soured quickly as Chinese Tesla owners this year began blaming the company for car malfunctions, including sudden accelerations and brake failures. 

  • The recall affects over 90% of Tesla vehicles made and sold in China, according to figures released by the China Passenger Car Association. 

READ MORE: Safety questions and shady sales tactics are chilling the China-Tesla love affair

Details: Tesla will recall 285,520 cars, including Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built between 2019 and 2021. Affected customers can receive fixes remotely through system upgrades, without bringing the cars back to the dealers. 

  • China’s market watchdog, the State Administration for Market Regulation, said it found safety risks in Tesla’s autopilot cruise-control systems. Drivers can easily activate the system by accident, causing the vehicle to accelerate suddenly, the regulator said in a statement (in Chinese). In some extreme cases, this problem can lead to collisions, the regulator said.
  • The watchdog said the recall is Tesla’s response to a safety investigation initiated by the regulator. 
  • However, Tesla said in its statement (in Chinese) that the recall is a result of the company “acting responsibly to the customers” and that it reported the recall voluntarily to the regulator (our translation). 
  • A Tesla spokesperson insisted that the recall was proactive and unrelated to previous accidents in an interview with the National Business Daily (in Chinese). 
  • The affected models include more than 211,000 Model 3 vehicles made in China between December 2019 and June 2021, nearly 36,000 imported Model 3s manufactured during 2019, and 38,600 Model Ys made in China since the start of this year. 
  • Tesla did not respond to TechNode’s emailed request for comment.

Context: Since early last year, Tesla has faced mounting pressure in China over safety concerns and customer service complaints. The company also faces national security concerns in China. 

  • After a car owner launched a high-profile protest at a car show in April, the US carmaker issued an unusual public apology, pledging to respect Chinese customers and China’s laws, and cooperate with the government on its investigations. 
  • In late May, the company also established a data center in China, after the Chinese military reportedly banned staff from using Tesla vehicles due to concerns over the cars’ ability to collect confidential data. The center will store and process information generated by locally-made Teslas.
  • Chinese government agencies have begun requesting staff to refrain from purchasing Teslas, due to data security concerns, a person with direct knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named told TechNode in early June. 
  • In February, Tesla announced a recall in China affecting 36,126 imported Model S and Model X vehicles over touchscreen failures. Three months later, the company issued another recall involving 5,974 imported Model 3 due to safety risks posed by defective bolts, CNBC reported.

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