Polestar and Volvo EV recall shows the strength of over-the-air updates

Over-the-air updates can make electric cars go faster and farther, or add features like Camp mode and Caraoke. 

But it’s not all fun and games; automakers can quickly deploy software-based fixes for some potentially dangerous safety-related issues, which effectively serves up a recall remedy instantly that doesn't require a trip to a dealer.

That’s exactly what happened last month, when Volvo and Polestar discovered an issue with the propulsion system in the Volvo XC40 Recharge electric SUV and Polestar 2 electric car, which are closely related and were developed together.  

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

Volvo Car USA and Polestar Automotive USA filed recall paperwork for the same issue. In the affected models, a microprocessor within the battery energy control module might reset and cause a sudden disconnect of the cars’ high-voltage system, and thus a potential stall of the vehicle. 

In both cases, a simple software update fixed the errant behavior of that microprocessor, which was supplied from China by Lear. 

For both models, vehicles affected included those made from the start of production until Feb. 24, 2021, when new software solving the issue was introduced.

2021 Polestar 2

2021 Polestar 2

On the Polestar side, spokesperson J.P. Canton confirmed that there’s effectively no stop-sale for the recall, or a physical service campaign, and since the fix was deployed over the air—”pending a few last customers accepting the download in-dash”—the NHTSA filing was essentially a formality. 

Although Volvo hadn’t yet officially started deliveries—in sync with its original schedule of Q1 2021—it acknowledged that things were a little different because of what some of its franchised dealers had decided to do. 

“We are aware that some retailers have sold their demos to customers, so those cars will have to be brought in under the traditional process,” clarified product and technology spokesperson Jim Nichols. 

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

XC40 Recharge models all come with the over-the-air hardware and capability, but for Volvo the updates haven’t yet started. So Volvo Cars North America is updating the affected vehicles when they arrive at port and before the vehicles are shipped to retailers. 

Volvo says that it is “continuing to process vehicles at our ports and will notify customers about their delivery soon.”

In the meantime, both Volvo and its dealerships—which face a new direct-sales model and evolving role—have a great litmus test for over-the-air updates that don’t require hardware fixes. With the immediacy of the OTA update versus the logistics of manual updates, there’s a clear winner, and it represents the future.

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