Tesla no longer has a public-relations department, so when the automaker’s chief executive officer, Elon Musk, tweets vehicle-related information (as opposed to stuff such as “Bitcoin is my safe word” or “420 is ten times better than 42”), the automotive media treats it as the de facto company line. Musk’s latest eye-opening Tesla-related tweet was sent in reply to a reaction to the new Model S‘s yoke-style steering wheel:
Yep, the refreshed Tesla Model S and Model X lack physical controls for operating each vehicles’ direct-drive transmissions. Instead, per Musk, the function now lives within the models’ touchscreens. That said, users may never need to fiddle with the on-screen buttons to switch between reverse and drive, as Musk claims the EVs automatically select drive and reverse by inferring the direction the driver plans to travel using data ostensibly gleaned from various sensors, the cars’ exterior-mounted cameras, and the in-dash navigation system. Is any of this actually true, and if it is, how does it actually work? Who knows? With no PR team available to validate such claims and no updated Model S or Model X in our hands for review, it’s impossible to verify the functionality of this supposed new feature.
We, of course, also wondered if this method of gear selection is legal under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Unfortunately, the regulations aren’t particularly specific, so we’ve reached out to the NHTSA for clarity on the legality of the proposed transmission selector setup of the revised Model S and Model X. We have yet to hear back from an agency spokesperson as of this writing, but will update this story if and when we receive a response.
In a world that needs more fact-checking, not less, it’s disheartening to be unable to gain direct insight from Tesla into the Model S and Model X drive-selection functionality. Hopefully as we near the March and April delivery windows for the updated models, we’ll have spent time behind the steering wheel—er, steering yoke—of one or both of these machines to confirm if the setup works in the way Musk’s tweet claims it does.