Well it looks like we've finally found out how Tesla was able to so deftly sidestep the ongoing semiconductor shortage and post record numbers while the rest of the industry struggled from lack of chips.
It was reported yesterday that the company decided to "cut one of the two electronic control units normally included in the steering system" on some Model 3 and Model Y vehicles made in China in order to make up for a shortage of chips, CNBC reported.
The report, which cites two employees and internal correspondence from the company, says that the exclusion of the one electronic control unit had affected "tens of thousands of vehicles being shipped to customers in China, Australia, the U.K., Germany and other parts of Europe" and that Tesla did not disclose the change.
But they key isn't that didn't disclose it, it's that the company can no longer turn all of its existing cars into full self driving cars with a mere software update, CNBC noted.
Elon Musk had recently claimed: “My personal guess is that we’ll achieve Full Self-Driving this year at a safety level significantly greater than a person. So the cars in the fleet essentially becoming self-driving via software update, I think, might end up being the biggest increase in asset value of any asset class in history. We shall see.”
But internal correspondence showed that to add "Level 3" autonomous driving, cars would need the dual electronic control unit system.
The omitted chip helps translate steering wheel movements into wheel turns for the vehicle, via computer.
“There’s still a mechanical component of course. But in today’s vehicles, when you ‘turn the wheel’ you are providing an electronic signal telling your car to go left or right,” said Richard Wallace, principal advisor for HWA Analytics.
The second chip was deemed by Tesla to be a backup and "redundant".
But Wallace said that removing the unit could pose a safety risk: “If something like a chip or an ECU is not providing additional functionality, if it is truly redundant, you may be able to turn it off or leave it out. With chips and software, there’s a little bit of wiggle room. I can reassign stuff here and there.”
IHS Markit Senior Principal Analyst Phil Amsrud concluded: “I cannot think of a case where an automaker would say ‘You know what? We’ll take a component out of that module, even though it was there for a good reason and we’ll hope nothing happens.’ Going from a dual chip to a single chip variant in a vehicle can make a system simpler and make it better in some cases. But they’d really need to do a lot of validation.”