Tesla’s new Model S and Model X cabins proved to be controversial when the EV-maker revealed its refresh earlier this year, and a new video showing how one of the most unusual changes will work is unlikely to settle those arguments. As well as the distinctive “yoke” steering wheel in Elon Musk’s new sedan and SUV, the two EVs also do away with a traditional transmission selector.
Since they launched, the Model S and Model X had used a column-mounted transmission stick. Tapping that up or down moved between drive, neutral, park, and reverse. However there were no such controls visible in the updated cabin.
Instead, Tesla CEO Elon Musk explained, the revamped cars would be controlled via software. “No more stalks,” he confirmed on Twitter. “Car guesses drive direction based on what obstacles it sees, context & nav map. You can override on touchscreen.”
Just how that override works has been shared on Twitter, by Taiwanese Tesla owner Michale Hsu. In a brief video, he apparently shows the new on-screen transmission control, which effectively involves dragging a graphic of the car either forward or backward. Swipe it up, and you’ll tell the Model S or Model X you want to go forward; swipe it down, and the EV will shift into reverse.
It’s worth noting that, for the most part, drivers may not actually need to use this swipe system. The intelligent shift, if it works as Tesla promises, will automatically put the car into the correct mode it predicts, as Musk indicated. There’ll also apparently be a way to scroll through the PRNDL options via one of the control wheels on the steering wheel itself.
Just how much of an improvement this is over traditional transmission shifters remains to be seen in practice. We’ve gradually seen some of the more longstanding interactions between driver and vehicle ebb away, particularly with the arrival of electric cars. Some, for example, no longer require the driver to press a “start” button, instead automatically getting ready to drive as soon as there’s sufficient operator weight on the driver’s seat.
Moving to digital controls has also paid dividends for Tesla as it pushes out new features. Reducing hardware switches and knobs has made it easier to redesign the interfaces in its vehicles. At the same time, of course, it also puts more responsibility on hardware like touchscreens: in February, Tesla agreed to recall over 134,000 of its cars because the touchscreen display could crash during operation.
The new Model S and Model X are available to order now. However deliveries of the car aren’t expected for another 10-14 weeks, as of time of publication, putting availability at some time in June 2021, and some customers with EVs already on the order books have been left unhappy with the process.