WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Elon Musk has a point in complaining about the word "recall" being used to describe fixes to Tesla Motors Inc.'s Model S, said David Strickland, who left last week as the top U.S. auto-safety regulator.
Tesla's ability to make safety changes to the plug-in electric vehicle through over-the-air software updates, the basis for Musk's objection, is "precedent-setting" for regulators, said Strickland, who will begin next week as a partner at law firm Venable LLP.
"As much as Tesla disagrees and Elon disagrees with the characterization of a recall, I would have to say he's partially right there," Strickland said about Tesla's CEO in an interview Tuesday. "What people think of in terms of a recall is you get a letter from the manufacturer to bring your car in to the dealership."
"Tesla is able to change vehicle dynamics and make vehicle changes from the sky," said Strickland, who said he couldn't remember a safety repair being made that way before. "You don't have to impose an inconvenience on the consumer when that remedy comes in."
Tesla's decision to mail replacement adapters to owners, after a half-dozen reports of plugs overheating during charging on an owner Web site, was classified as a recall by NHTSA last week, leading Musk to write on Twitter that "the word 'recall' needs to be recalled."
The adapter swap followed the software update to reduce amperage if overheating is detected while charging.