- tesla unveiled the 2021 model s and model x vehicles on wednesday night with images showing no stalks on the steering wheel or any other visible way to manually shift gears.
- ceo elon musk tweeted today, when asked how this will work, that the car will guess which way the driver wants to go.
- as for manual controls, drivers will now use the touchscreen.
when tesla unveiled the 2021 model s and model x during an earnings call on january 27, the biggest surprise (beyond the claimed 520-mile range of the upcoming plaid+ model s) was the lack of any stalks on the steering column. tesla even bragged on its website about how it removed the stalks from the steering column behind its new square yoke-style steering wheel with the claim of "the ultimate focus on driving: no stalks, no shifting."
marketing copy aside, you still have to shift to get going. while we can see on the steering wheel how to enable turn signals with the left controller ball or tapping on the arrows on the steering wheel, the big question remains. how do you actually put the car into gear?
tesla ceo elon musk answered that question the same way he answers most of the queries about tesla: via twitter. when asked how the car shifts into gear, he replied: "car guesses drive direction based on what obstacles it sees, context & nav map. you can override on touchscreen."
in other words, thanks to maps and a 360-degree view of the world, the new teslas know your location and your surroundings. this data will be used used to help determine whether to put the vehicle in drive or reverse. will it be perfect? no. it’ll likely require training to learn your routine and parking spaces, and it's sure to make a few mistakes, so it's best to keep an eye on the dash cluster to see just what gear you're actually in before stepping on the accelerator.
but tesla's autopilot technology can't account for all of life’s driving scenarios. so there's a manual way to shift gears: with the touchscreen.
tesla has already been loading a lot of features into its touchscreen interface, so it doesn't surprise us it that it did this with gearshifting. a newly added vehicle icon in the top left corner of the center display is likely where drivers will shift gears in the new model s and model x. you can see it if you zoom and enhance the image. not only is it new, but as you check out the interior images of the new vehicles, it’s always onscreen regardless of what else is being displayed at that moment. swipe up for drive, swipe down for reverse, and maybe tap for park. it's there, it's constant, and it's new, just like these new model s and model x vehicles.
how this plays out in the real world is yet to be seen. it's something that's likely not been done before by one of the traditional automakers. that's not saying it'll be better or worse; for now, all we know is that it'll be different.