Tesla Uses Engineering Samples for the Modem in All the New Model S, 3, and Y Units

To defend the lousy quality control of Tesla cars, one of its advocates once wrote that the company sold prototypes, not production vehicles. While that is true regarding software – especially Autopilot and FSD – the cars should not be regarded as such. A recent discovery may give that Tesla advocate reason: the company is shipping cars with modem engineering samples.
Tesla is shipping its more recent cars with modem engineering samples 14 photos
Photo: GreenTheOnly/Twitter
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According to GreenTheOnly – a white-hat hacker that has studied Tesla products and software for years – all units of the Model S Plaid and all Model 3s and Model Ys with AMD chips come with modem chips that read “engineering sample.” The hacker was told that this was a way to include radio equipment that has not yet passed the necessary FCC certification in production vehicles.

That opens a broad discussion if production vehicles can come with engineering samples. Apparently, the Quectel AG525R-GL modem chip was approved by the FCC in October 2020, making it legal to use production versions of the chip in Tesla vehicles. However, GreenTheOnly said that all cars he and his colleagues have checked so far come with engineering samples.

That makes it look like an attempt to solve the chip crisis that is still affecting the automotive industry. As new chips are in short supply, Tesla took the engineering samples to make sure it could deliver its cars. If that is correct, it is still up to debate whether these engineering samples are ready to stand regular use.

If they are not, we could have a similar crisis to that with the MCU in the making – only with Tesla's more recent computers, the ICEs. If you do not remember it, Tesla put an 8 GB eMMC flash memory chip in the Model S and Model X MCUs which could only last four years of use due to constant logging.

Instead of replacing only the memory chip, Tesla had to substitute the entire computer, charging customers for it when their cars were no longer under warranty. Improperly discarded MCUs also contained data from their clients. That happened until Tesla admitted the problem and was forced by NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to perform a recall and refund customers that had to pay for the MCUs. We have not heard of the company properly discarding the computers so far.

If these engineering samples are not adequate for production purposes, Tesla may need to recall thousands of cars, including those made in China. We’ll only truly grasp the implications if Tesla decides to talk about them or if government agencies decide to investigate them.

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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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