As part of a refresh of the Model S and Model X, Tesla has eliminated gear-selector stalks. In the lead up to their release, the company was vague on how drivers would shift from park to drive or reverse. Now we know and, perhaps not surprisingly, the answer involves a touchscreen.
A video posted to Twitter by user Michael Hsu (and first spotted by Road & Track) shows a slider in the upper-lefthand corner of a car's touchscreen. It includes a little icon of a car, which you drag in the direction you want to go.
We can't confirm that this is real (Tesla typically doesn't respond to requests for comment from media) and even if it is, the software could still be in development, and may not have final regulatory approval. But things don't look good.
This setup seems like a bad idea for several reasons. First, Tesla doesn't include "D" or "R" labels to indicate which gear the car is in. Second, we imagine some drivers will drag the car in the wrong direction, which could lead to low-speed accidents. Third, in the video at least, the interface also seems laggy, making it even harder to tell whether the car is in drive or reverse. Finally, if the screen goes blank drivers will have no means of changing gears.
The lack of tactile feedback is a known problem with electronic shift levers, allowing drivers to mistakenly leave cars in gear. Moving the gear selection to the touchscreen would seem to make that problem even worse. Still, it's better than Tesla CEO Elon Musk's original suggestion that cars would "guess" which direction the driver wanted to go using artificial intelligence. Eliminating the gear-selector stalk also means fewer parts, which is more of a benefit for Tesla than it is for customers.
We'll know soon if this is indeed the new gear-selector interface, and customer feedback will show how effective it is. For now, we're not fans.