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Customers look at a Tesla Motors Inc. Model X electric vehicle on display at the company’s showroom in Shanghai, China, on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked Tesla in a letter on Wednesday to recall 158,716 of its Model S and Model X vehicles manufactured before 2019, after owners complained of touchscreen glitches that led to the loss of several safety-related features.

The affected cars, made at Tesla’s Fremont, California, auto plant, include Tesla Model S sedans made between 2012 and 2018, and Model X SUVs in model years from 2016 to 2018.

Tesla can refuse to conduct the recall, but would have to present a full explanation of why to NHTSA, which could then propose further action. A recall of 158,716 vehicles would represent around 10% of Tesla’s lifetime reported production through the end of 2020. Tesla produced its millionth electric vehicle in Mar. 2020, CEO Elon Musk tweeted at the time, and in the last three quarters of 2020 the company produced more than 400,000 additional vehicles.

News of the letter was previously reported by Reuters.

The memory devices in some Tesla MCUs have a limited “write cycle,” which means they — and therefore the media control unit itself — won’t work well, or at all, after they hit a certain number of program or erase cycles.

Owners of affected Tesla vehicles previously told CNBC that the display on their media control units (or MCUs) would sometimes go blank, in part or in whole. The touchscreen issues interfered with drivers’ ability to use heat, air conditioning, defrost and defogging systems in their cars, or to use their rear view cameras and Tesla Autopilot features while parking