Tesla unveiled updated versions of its Model S and Model X on Wednesday, and there were plenty of surprises.
Perhaps one of the biggest was the new steering wheel which features a design more like an airplane's yoke than a traditional steering wheel—and is completely devoid of any stalks. Yes, no stalk for the indicators or for changing gears.
Prompted by a question on Twitter, Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Thursday provided some clues on how the new controls of the updated Model S and Model X will work.
He said the car is able to predict what to do based on context, as well as navigation data and sensing what obstacles are around it.
No more stalks. Car guesses drive direction based on what obstacles it sees, context & nav map. You can override on touchscreen.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 28, 2021
He also confirmed that there are manual controls on the central display. You'll notice there's a new vehicle icon in the top left corner of the display which is likely for choosing the gear. You'll likely have to use this to initially get the car going.
It also looks like indicators can be selected using the left controller ball on the steering wheel. You'll notice left and right arrow signals directly next to it.
In a second post, Musk said that after you get used to the new system, it “gets very annoying” to go back to traditional controls.
After you drive without using a PRND stalk/stick for a few days, it gets very annoying to go back & use a shifter!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 28, 2021
Whether the system will be flawless remains to be seen, though we wouldn't count on it given Tesla's past record with automated systems. There's likely to be some level of machine learning involved, too, so it's possible the system will improve over time.
The new control system is yet another step on the road to fully self-driving cars, which Tesla promises. The company as early as 2016 announced the Tesla Network which will be a self-driving taxi network where Tesla owners will be able to have their cars offer lifts when they aren't using the cars themselves, creating a potential source of income for both Tesla and owners.
Such a future might not be that far away. Tesla last fall added new functionality to a limited number of owners whose cars were equipped with the Full Self-Driving (FSD) driver-assist feature. The new functionality allowed the vehicles to handle turns in urban environments automatically, including at four-way intersections. This function is still in “beta” mode but will eventually be rolled out to all FSD owners, Tesla said.
For people who still enjoy driving, the latest updates to the Model S and Model X also include the long-awaited Plaid option. This is a new three-motor powertrain that offers over 1,000 hp in both vehicles, and over 1,100 hp in a range-topping Model S Plaid+ variant. According to Tesla, the Model S Plaid+ will hit 60 mph from rest in less than 1.99 seconds and cover the quarter-mile in less than nine seconds, making it the quickest production car in history.