Porsche is recalling its first EV, the Taycan, to fix an issue where some cars suddenly lose power while in motion. The automaker has already sold around 43,000 Taycans globally to date, though it claims (without further clarification) that only a small number are affected. Owners will have to bring their electric Porsches to a dealer for the software fix, which the company says will take between 60 and 90 minutes. The fix is being applied to new Taycans coming off the production line.
The same issue is also affecting the new Audi E-Tron GT, as it is built on the Taycan’s electric powertrain. That recall involves far fewer vehicles, though, as Audi only just started shipping the electric sports car.
At least a dozen Taycan owners have filed complaints to date with the NHTSA about the power loss problem, enough that the safety agency recently opened a probe into the issue. The agency discovered that the power loss is being caused when the 12-volt battery — that classic rectangular battery which powers accessories when a car isn’t running — runs out of charge. If the 12-volt battery dies while a Taycan is in motion, it can shut off the much larger 800-volt battery pack that powers the vehicle’s electric motors and other critical systems.
In a May filing, NHTSA says that all of the customer complaints so far claim that this power loss happened “without warning [or] error messages.” Six owners say they weren’t able to restart their vehicle after the loss of power. There are no known injuries at this time. Forum posts from early 2020 show that this has been an issue for a while, though.
“Our first priority is the safety of our customers,” Porsche said in a statement. “With this in mind, Porsche notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it will recall certain MY20 and MY21 Porsche Taycan vehicles to update the power electronics and engine control unit software. After recent review, Porsche determined that a software issue can, in certain instances, incorrectly and sporadically detect a potentially faulty communication and trigger a possible loss of motive power. A software update will help prevent this issue from occurring.”
Modern cars are full of all sorts of futuristic tech. But 12-volt batteries are still used to power low-level electronics, even in electric cars. And they can still cause problems like the one Porsche owners have been dealing with, despite there being a much larger battery pack on board.
Just a few months ago, as The Verge first reported, some owners of Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E electric SUV started reporting that they weren’t able to start their vehicles. The problem had to do with software that was stopping the 12-volt battery from recharging by sipping power from the bigger battery pack. When the 12-volt battery ultimately died, it basically made it impossible to start the electric Mustangs back up.
Porsche and Ford are not alone. Volvo has had issues with the 12-volt batteries in some of its electrified cars. So has General Motors with the one in the Chevy Bolt. Even Tesla has had trouble with this.
Most of these companies still used lead acid 12-volt batteries. While they have come a long way in some sense — newer “absorbed glass mat” versions that can last longer, for example — this type of battery still has limitations. Porsche uses a lithium iron phosphate 12-volt battery according to the owner’s manual, which is supposed to be safer and lighter than lead acid while also offering extended life, though clearly the company hasn’t worked out all the software kinks.
Tesla recently switched to a lithium-ion 12-volt battery in the new Model S Plaid, though CEO Elon Musk has also talked about the potential benefits of using a 48-volt system.