Tesla is under investigation by US regulators over complaints the steering wheel can fall off certain new Model Y vehicles while they're in use.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it's aware of two incidents in which the wheel detached from the steering column while drivers were operating the 2023 model year SUVs. The preliminary evaluation, opened March 4, applies to an estimated 120,089 vehicles, according to a filing posted on NHTSA's website.
The affected vehicles were delivered to owners without the retaining bolt that holds the steering wheel in place, the agency said. NHTSA is assessing “the scope, frequency and manufacturing processes associated with this condition.” There are no known injuries or deaths related to the issue, NHTSA said.
Tesla didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The move by NHTSA is the latest in a series of investigations targeting Tesla, its products and its chief executive officer, Elon Musk. The Austin, Texas-based automaker last month recalled 362,758 electric vehicles after NHTSA said Tesla's automated-driving technology could increase the risk of a crash.
A Tesla owner in New Jersey posted photos on Twitter in January that appeared to show a detached steering wheel in a Model Y he said he received several days earlier. He said in subsequent tweets that Tesla agreed to replace the vehicle and that NHTSA had contacted him about the issue.
Tesla shares fell 3.2 percent at 9:50 am in New York.
The Model Y is a key product for Tesla, which recently started manufacturing the vehicle at its two newest plants — one outside Berlin and the other in Austin. The company reports a combined figure for Model Y and Model 3 deliveries and handed over more than 1.2 million of the vehicles last year. The Model Y was the best-selling EV globally last year and could be one of the top vehicles of any type this year, according to BloombergNEF.
Steering wheel detachments, while rare, are not unique to Tesla.
In August, Ford Motor recalled 692 F-53 Motorhome Stripped Chassis and F-59 Commercial Stripped Chassis vehicles because the steering wheel attachment bolt could loosen and separate from the steering column. It also recalled about 1.3 million Ford and Lincoln brand vehicles in 2018 over a similar problem.
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