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Tesla Model X recalled for third-row seats that could fold over in a crash

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Tesla announced this afternoon that it's voluntarily recalling the small number of Model X crossovers that were produced before March 26th, roughly 2,700 in total, over concerns that the third-row seats could fold forward in a crash. The company says the seat passed 15 previous tests, but failed during a 16th, slightly different test prior to the start of European deliveries. All vehicles affected are labeled for US sale; most (but not all) are already in customers' hands. No injuries or issues in production vehicles have been attributed to the problem, which Tesla calls a manufacturing defect, not a design defect.

Although Tesla moved production of the vehicle's complex "monopost" second-row seats inside the company, the third row is manufactured by an outside supplier. Tesla is blaming the issue on the recliner used in those third-row seats, and says that the supplier will pick up the cost — it therefore doesn't expect much impact on earnings.

Not Tesla's first recall

This isn't Tesla's first recall, but it's the first significant action for the Model X, which is still being produced in relatively small numbers. (A recent press release blamed the company's own "hubris" for failing to ramp up as quickly as expected.) The fix has already been designed and put into production, and a Tesla spokesperson notes that there will be no impact on future Model X manufacturing volume.

Tesla says that it expects to have all 2,700-odd vehicles fixed within five weeks, and each fix will require a service appointment roughly two hours long. Unfortunately for owners, Tesla is advising that they not use the third row for transporting people in the meantime — the company says that "you may make full use" of the car until the fix is complete, but an out-of-service third row isn't exactly "full use" for a vehicle that uses three-row seating as a major selling point.

Here's the full text of the letter that Tesla is sending to Model X owners today:

We are emailing to inform you of a proactive action Tesla is taking to ensure your safety as a Model X owner. Tesla's internally conducted crash testing demonstrates that Model X will be the first SUV to receive the highest safety rating in every category, and we are committed to ensuring that it remains the safest SUV in the world.

Recently, during an internal seat strength test that was conducted prior to the start of Model X deliveries in Europe, the recliner in a third row Model X seat unexpectedly slipped. The recliner, which is provided to us by an outside supplier, is the locking hinge that allows the third row seat back to fold forward, and if a recliner were to slip during a crash, the seat back could move forward. Similar testing was conducted before the start of deliveries in North America, with 15 confirmation tests having been conducted without a single recliner failure. Despite these prior successful tests and no reports of a third row seat slipping in any customer vehicles, we have decided to conduct a voluntary recall as a precautionary measure and will be replacing all affected third row seat backs.

Our records show that you own a Model X affected by this voluntary recall. We will shortly send you an official recall notice by mail, but we wanted to alert you to this action as soon as possible.

A fix to this issue is already in place. We have worked with our supplier to develop a new recliner design with improved quality that resolved the issue. We are now constructing new third row seat backs to match all affected vehicles. Your service center will contact you to schedule the installation of your replacement seat backs as soon as they are available. Based on current production rates, we expect all replacements to be completed on a rolling basis over the next five weeks. We will accelerate this timing if possible.

Until the recall is performed, you may make full use of your Model X, although we ask that you temporarily not have anyone sit in the third row seats while the car is in use. We recognize that not having the use of your third row seats for the next few weeks will be an inconvenience, but your safety is our primary concern. We assure you that we are building your new seat backs as fast as we can.


Tesla Model X first look