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Sudden Unintended Accelerations?

Exemplary analysis of a Tesla incident from 2020

The electric car manufacturer Tesla is always a popular target of speculation, both in the positive and negative direction. An article on CNBC is currently the subject of discussion. Reason for us to dig deeper into the matter.

“Vehicle Speed Control” overall complaints (NHTSA 2019)

Vehicle Speed Control Complaints Chart

Prophecies that the electric car high-flyer Tesla is threatened with high charges due to recalls of vehicles are not new. However, in an information mix, often driven by representatives of conventional technology, climate critics or short sellers, a neutral assessment is not always easy.

Currently, the rumour mill is once again cooking up on the subject of “Sudden Unintended Acceleration”, in technical jargon abbreviated as SUA. This quickly awakens bad memories. Because the memories of the massive recall from 2009/2010 of a good nine million Toyotas as a result of a defective accelerator pedal are still fresh in our minds. Not only that it was one of the largest recalls ever, in terms of the number of vehicles, but also and more importantly because of the fatal accidents involved. On US roads alone, unintentionally accelerating cars are said to have been involved in more than 200 accidents with 34 fatalities, according to a report on the Tagesschau from 2010.

Reason enough for us at Carwatch.net to take a closer look at the case and analyze and evaluate it based on the data available to us. The analyses are based on the recalls officially published by the authorities in the most important markets between the beginning of 2019 and mid-January 2020, as well as the complaints from vehicle owners collected by the US authority NHTSA during the same period.

Tesla Models Complaints

Let’s start with this first. Of the 364 complaints that can be clearly attributed to specific models, the Model S (197) received the largest number, followed at a considerable distance by Model 3 (107) and Model X (60).

Tesla Complaints per Component

Let’s go into some detail and examine the complaints at component level. Here the number of incidents involving Vehicle Speed Control is not dramatic in absolute terms, but it is striking. For other vehicle manufacturers, incidents involving, for example, brakes and airbags usually rank far ahead of speed control problems in terms of numbers. Specifically under the heading of “Sudden Unintended Acceleration”, there were only 5 complaints, one of which concerned Model 3, the other two concerning Model S and X.

Sudden Unintended Acceleration Complaints

If we look at the US complaints in the context of “Vehicle Speed Control” across all vehicle manufacturers, the proportion of Tesla-related complaints is comparatively low.

However, when looking at the absolute number of 36 Tesla complaints, it must be taken into account that there are still correspondingly few vehicles on the road. For comparison: The three large German premium manufacturers had even fewer complaints about “Vehicle Speed Control” in the same period of the study, with many times more vehicles in the field (BMW: 28, Audi: 23, Mercedes: 22).

Sudden Unintended Acceleration Worldwide Recalls

From the point of view of recalls, the period from early 2019 to mid-January 2020 looked quite clear for Tesla. In addition to two US-American recalls, one recall each was initiated in Canada, Japan and Great Britain. From the content descriptions of the recalls, no connection with unexpected accelerations can be identified. In addition to the recalls, the NHTSA has a new 2019 investigation for Tesla pending. However, even this is not related to speed control.


Really tangible reasons for a large-scale recall of hundreds of thousands of Teslas as a result of “Sudden Unintended Accelerations” cannot be found in the official data. The 5 reported incidents in the last 12.5 months are by far not sufficient to predict something bigger here. However, without leaving out the necessary caution in the assessment: In relation to the number of vehicles in the field, the incidents involving Teslas are disproportionately high. The future will show us what this means.