Tesla’s Cybertruck Recall

Tesla’s first pickup truck—the Cybertruck—has had its share of production issues.

It was two years late for its release in November 2023, and has also required several software updates.

The continuing issues have now escalated to a recall for just under 4,000 trucks, including any vehicles produced between November 13, 2023, and April 4, 2024.

The problem is with the accelerator pedal. The pad on the pedal can be dislodged and become stuck in the trim resulting in the engine stuck at high RPM. This present a potential safety hazard.

The cause of the problem was traced to the unauthorized use of soap as a lubricant to install the accelerator pedal. Tesla is now in the process of recalling and repairing most of its Cybertrucks.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the NY Times article, Tesla Will Recall Cybertruck in Latest Setback, by J. Edward Moreno, April 22, 2024; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Part 573 Safety Recall Report (pdf file), April 17, 2024; and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: (c) graficart.net / Alamy

Discussion Questions:

1. What steps should Tesla follow with the recall?

Guidance: The first step is to determine how many vehicles are impacted, and the severity of the defect. If the defect is a safety issue where customers shouldn’t use the product, they should be contacted immediately, and press releases issued to let customers know of the defect. Depending on the industry, regulatory agencies should be contacted. Also, production should be stopped until the problem is fixed.

The next step is to identify the root cause of the defect. In this case, it was the use of soap as a lubricant used to install the accelerator pedal.

Next a repair procedure should be developed. Training, parts, and tools should be provided to workers who will perform the repair.

Finally, customers should be contacted to arrange the repair. Follow-up with non-responsive customers should be conducted, especially when it involves safety issues.

Bottom line, this is a reverse logistics problem where the company is working to get the defective product out of customers’ hands.

2. How can companies reduce the cost of recalls?

Guidance: The best way to save money on recalls is not to have a recall. Not only does it cost money to repair, replace, or refund the item, it can discourage customers from future purchases, and amplify past problems. Recalls can create legal liabilities with all the associated costs.

In the event a recall is necessary, to help reduce the cost, companies can limit the number of items recalled by keeping detailed information on products and processes. Once the cause of the defect is determined, only affected items need to be recalled. Many times, products are tracked by id numbers, lot numbers, or day of production.

Having a recall (crisis) management team in place with appropriate plans developed for potential recalls ahead of time can make a recall more cost effective. Lean organizations also have an advantage, with lower inventory levels in the production system resulting in fewer inventory items to repair or scrap.

3. Most recalls of automobiles generally involve repairing the car. For other products, what options exist for a recall?

Guidance: In addition to repairing the item, there are other options that may be appropriate, depending on the product. One possibility is to return the item to the store for a replacement or refund. The company could send out a replacement item directly to the customer. Another consideration is the amount and/or type of compensation offered to the customer, if any.

4. Why does using soap as a lubricant represent potential operational issues?

Guidance: The lubricant (soap) used interfered with the accelerator pedal remaining in place. This could cause the pedal to become trapped in the trim at high RPMs.

The bigger issue is that the use of the soap was not approved. Workers deviated from their assembly instructions, causing the potential safety issue. Additionally, there could be issues with the original design. Why did the assembly plant need to use soap to help install the pad? The design of the part should be examined and potentially replaced with a part that is easier to install, and is less likely to come off of the pedal. Or, the recall fix should also be used in the factory.

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