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Feds probing Lucid’s software fix for defroster recall

  • February 12, 2024

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into a Lucid Motors windshield defroster recall from January, saying it’s “concerned” the company’s over-the-air update solution doesn’t go far enough to fix the problem. Lucid, meanwhile, told TechCrunch that the agency “understates the remedy being offered.”

The probe comes as some automakers are increasingly relying on software updates to fix problems that would normally require a visit to a dealership or service center. While the investigation is not as high-stakes as, say, the one the agency has opened into Tesla’s problems with its Autopilot driver-assistance system, it shows NHTSA is paying close attention to what automakers think over-the-air updates should — and shouldn’t — be used for. 

The recall involves 2,042 Lucid Air sedans built with a high voltage coolant heater from supplier Webasto AG that, when it fails, removes the ability to defrost the windshield. Lucid’s solution for the recall was to ship an over-the-air update that could identify which cars had the part and reactively warn the driver if it fails.

NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation now says it is “concerned that by only providing a notification to drivers that their windshield defroster is not working, Lucid puts the driver in a situation where they could experience the failure during the same drive cycle as they receive the notification.” This could hypothetically cause drivers to find out the feature is unavailable at the moment they need to defrost their windshield — meaning they would also not be able to request a free replacement part until after a failure.

The agency notes that Jaguar Land Rover took a more proactive approach with its electric SUV, the I-Pace, which briefly used this same heater from Webasto. Jaguar announced in 2023 that it would alert all 668 affected owners and replace the part for free.

Lucid is framing its approach as innovative, though. The company said the over-the-air update introduced a “diagnostic software feature” that actively monitors the heater for faults, and it “intends to demonstrate that the analysis underlying this approach is sound and that customer safety is assured.” The company also said it is alerting all affected owners electronically and by mail, so they won’t find out after a failure, as NHTSA suggests.

 

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