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Tesla Semi, out since December, already facing a recall over brakes

Only 35 of the trucks affected, but that might be most of the ones on the road

Tesla's electric Semi truck, which has only been cruising highways since December, is facing its first recall over a faulty parking brake. Unlike other issues, this one won't be fixable with an over-the-air update.

According to documents published by America's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the fault lies in a valve module that doesn't always engage when the driver presses the button to activate the electronically-controlled system. 

"If the parking brakes are not engaged when the driver expects them to be and the driver releases the service brakes, the vehicle may unintentionally move, increasing the risk of crash," the NHTSA said in its recall report [PDF].

In its report, the NHTSA said the valve module may allow for excessive internal air leakage, according to supplier specifications. As a result, it might not work when the button is pushed; fortunately for drivers, the parking brake LEDs reportedly don't light up in the event of a fault, letting them know something's wrong. 

"At no cost to the customer, Tesla will replace the parking brake valve module with a revised part with improved internals that prevent air leakage and allow the driver to engage and disengage parking brakes," the NHTSA said. 

Tesla hasn't identified any crashes, injuries, or deaths related to the defect.

Speaking of Tesla tumult …

A New Orleans appeals court upheld a previous US National Labor Relations Board decision that found Tesla owner and self-proclaimed "Technoking" Elon Musk violated federal labor laws when he tweeted that Tesla employees at the company's Fremont, California, plant risked losing stock options if they joined the United Auto Workers union.

In 2018, Musk tweeted that there was "nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw [sic] if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?" Musk went on to say that the safety record at the Fremont plant was better without union presence. 

Tesla made similar claims when California officials launched an investigation into safety concerns at the plant in 2018.

A three-judge panel of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said the tweet amounted to a threat to deprive employees of stock options if they chose to unionize, and ordered Musk to delete the offending statement, which was made nearly five years ago. As of writing, it's still up.

A bit of Tesla Semi insight

As we've noted previously, it's been tough to pin down any numbers on the Tesla Semi: the automaker has excluded the vehicle from its quarterly and annual statements since production began last October, and not even the price has been publicly disclosed. 

PepsiCo, the first customer to take delivery of the electric Semi, has reportedly ordered 100 of them, though as of December was only fielding 36. 

That said, the NHTSA's recall notice provides a bit of insight into Tesla Semi numbers with the population of Tesla's recall: 35 trucks manufactured between November 30, 2022 and the end of February.

According to NHTSA documents, it estimates 100 percent of the vehicles included in the recall contain the defective parts, which were manufactured by Ohio-based Bendix, a company that manufactures safety components for commercial vehicles.  

It's unknown how many Tesla Semis Bendix has outfitted with faulty parking brake valve modules, or how many it has supplied components for in total; a spokesperson for the company declined to comment when asked. 

We also reached out to Tesla for more information, but predictably we didn't hear back. Not even with an automated poop emoji.

Tesla Semis were supposed to hit US roads in 2019, but it took until late last year for the first ones to be delivered to PepsiCo. Since then, social media users have regularly posted photos of Tesla Semis broken down on the side of highways or being towed. 

Tesla's next quarterly earnings report is scheduled for April 19, but a press release published in advance of the quarterly call also leaves off any mention of the Tesla Semi. ®

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