Tesla ( TSLA -1.73% ) late Wednesday got mixed news from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with the agency requesting Tesla recall about 158,000 vehicles due to safety concerns but also assigning a five-star crash safety rating to the automaker's Model Y.
The NHTSA sent a letter to Tesla asking it to recall some of its Model S and Model X vehicles due to touchscreen failures. The touchscreen is used to operate a number of safety features, and a failure could leave drivers unable to access the Autopilot driver assistance system or see the rearview camera used for driving in reverse.
The failure occurs when a flash drive used on the screens reaches capacity, and the solution requires a hardware replacement.
Tesla has recalled vehicles in the past, but this would be the largest recall for the automaker to date and comes at a difficult time for the industry. Ford has been forced to idle factories due to a shortage in electronic components related to the pandemic and other issues, and other automakers have been scrambling to access microchips and other supplies.
The NHTSA letter doesn't mandate a recall, though the agency said that if Tesla does not take action, it needs to provide an explanation for its decision. The NHTSA could then call a public hearing and try to force a recall through the courts.
Separately, the agency praised the Model Y's ability to withstand a range of crashes and rollover scenarios, giving the vehicle the top rating possible for crash safety. The Model Y, which joins variants of Tesla's Model S in scoring well on NHTSA tests, also comes standard with the agency's four recommended safety technologies.
The issues Tesla faces reflect the growing importance of tech to the auto industry, a trend that is unlikely to reverse. The website Electrek reported that Tesla has filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission to use a new higher-definition millimeter-wave radar on future vehicles.
Tesla's Autopilot features rely on a combination of cameras and radar. The newer, more sensitive radar would presumably improve the company's driver assistance tech as it pushes toward fully autonomous driving. But the improvement does call into question Tesla's claim that vehicles on the road today have the sensor package necessary to one day offer fully autonomous driving.