Chinese Nio Electric Car Shuts Down in Traffic After Driver Triggers Software Update

The driver picked the worst time to run a software update.

byStephen Edelstein|
Electric Vehicles photo

Pioneered by Tesla, over-the-air-software updates allow automakers to make changes to cars without owners having to go to a dealership. That's great, as long as drivers know when it's appropriate to run an update. The driver of a Nio ES8 electric SUV did not know that, triggering an update that left the car stuck in Beijing traffic, according to South China Morning Post.

The driver was reportedly testing the car, with a Nio representative riding along. They ended up stuck in the car for "more than an hour," according to the South China Morning Post. The Nio representative posted on Chinese social media site Weibo that multiple groups of police officers came, "yet we could not even wind the window down," according to the Post.

Nio apologized on Weibo, according to Bloomberg. It said it would review its software to try to prevent future incidents, but said the fault lay with the driver for activating the software update while in traffic. The right time to run updates is when a car is parked in an appropriate place, the company said.

A Nio spokesperson told The Verge that the procedure already in place for software updates should have provided ample warning to the driver.

"Before users start to upgrade the software, they receive a clear notice explaining that users need to park their cars during the upgrading and the car's relevant functionalities will be shut down," a statement from the spokesperson published by The Verge said. "The upgrade takes several steps, including entering the password and confirmation. The user tried to engage the upgrade while she was caught in a traffic jam."

Over-the-air updates allow cars to function more like smartphones, but not always in a good way. Running a software update on a phone at the wrong time can be inconvenient but, as this incident shows, it's an even bigger problem in a car. Operator error isn't the only issue: last year, an update for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Uconnect infotainment systems triggered endless reboots, rendering vehicles unusable until a fix was found.

Nio is one of many startups looking to repeat Tesla's success with electric cars. Unlike most other startups, Nio is actually building and selling cars, albeit only in its home market of China. The automaker claims to have delivered more than 10,000 ES8 SUVs in 2018. Nio stock is publicly traded in the United States, and the company has discussed selling cars here.