US electric vehicle maker Tesla plans to develop its own vehicle diagnosis system for the first time and apply it to all Tesla models sold in South Korea from October next year, instead of going through mandatory safety checks conducted by the local authority, drawing concerns among the public as Tesla could hide fatal technical glitches on purpose.
According to Korea Transportation Safety Authority data obtained by Rep. Park Sang-hyuk from Democratic Party of Korea on Monday, Tesla plans to adopt an internally developed vehicle diagnosis system to avoid offering on-board diagnostics data to KTSA.
OBD is a computer system that conducts a vehicle’s self-diagnosis and reporting on emissions, the engine, brakes and safety functions. Related data is sent to and stored by the KTSA so authorities can refer to figures for regular inspections. All local and imported electric vehicles released since 2009 are installed with an OBD system.
Of 26 carmakers – seven local, 19 imported brands -- here, only Tesla has been resistant to installing the OBD system since 2018, citing worries over security issues in the autonomous driving software.
Tesla has also reportedly cited the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement to avoid sharing vehicle information, as US-approved carmakers do not need to go through a separate approval process from Korean authorities on safety with annual sales below 50,000 units.
Tesla sold a total of 17,828 vehicles here in 2021, about a 50 percent increase on-year. Tesla is the fourth-largest foreign car brand here for electric vehicles in terms of sales, after Mercedes-Benz (76,284), BMW (65,682) and Audi (25,626). In the first half of this year, the Tesla Model 3 was the third bestselling EV here.
For this reason, the KTSA has been physically conducting inspections on Tesla cars, such as by checking figures on dashboards and the condition of electrical wires. As Tesla continues to refuse to turn in the related data, a KTSA official has said they would randomly pick a Tesla car to conduct a spot check.
Currently, Tesla is also avoiding the submission of vehicle diagnosis data to authorities in Europe, Japan and China. Industry insiders say Tesla is expected to apply its very first self-diagnostic system to its cars in Korea and later expand to other global markets.
Market experts have said Tesla’s self-diagnostic capability may sound innovative, but considering the complicated safety inspections for electric vehicles in general due to possible issues with the high-voltage battery pack, Tesla should work on a compromise with the local authority.
“OBD data works as a significant yardstick to check the vehicle’s condition, including if the motor properly exerts power. For consumers’ safety, it is necessary for authorities to receive related data from Tesla,” said Kim Pil-soo, a professor of automotive engineering at Daelim University.
Others also stressed the need to legislate a related regulation so the carmakers can comply with the local authority.
“Credibility of inspection results via the Tesla-designated data server will be low, as the carmaker can manipulate the data in advance. While many Korean consumers still clearly remember the '2015 dieselgate’ by Volkswagen in which the German carmaker manipulated exhaust emissions to pass the test, Tesla should find a fair, credible way to guarantee vehicle's safety instead of relying on its own technology,” said an industry insider.