Someone has got to tell Elon that Tesla doesn’t need to innovate for innovation’s sake.
Tesla has recently announced a raft of new updates for its two longest-standing models, the Model S sedan and Model X SUV. In a saner time, the news of either model’s hypercar-matching acceleration, class leading range and the refreshed interior would have been the talk of the town for days on end.
However, all these really rather massive improvements on Tesla’s two mainstay cars have been completely eclipsed by the introduction of their latest gimmick yet, which comes in the form of this weird aircraft yoke-style steering wheel.
Just to preface here, it is nice to see the innovation that Tesla have been doing over the past few years. They have been widely credited as the automaker who kicked-started the EV revolution after all.
Admittedly too, this is not the first time we’ve seen automakers try and improve on the tried and tested steering wheel formula. Automotive anoraks might recall that the current C8 Corvette has a squircle steering wheel. Who could also forget Ferrari’s continued attempts to squeeze every single button within the cabins its supercars on to its wheel?
Besides, those who are interested in racing will perhaps find this trick yoke-style wheel to be especially cool. I mean, who doesn’t want a Formula 1-esque steering wheel on their road car?
Having said all that however, there is a reason as to why even the most Formula 1 inspired supercars and hypercars have a (mostly) round wheel, and that is because Formula 1 cars have a short steering rack. This really short rack is what allows F1 cars to have direct steering, though at the expense of a limited steering angle.
Back in the real world on the other hand, normal road cars tend to have a longer steering rack for a wider steering angle. This is not only to negotiate those tight turns that one might encounter on a daily commute, but also allow for the car not to want to dart from one side of the highway to another with the slightest of steering inputs.
A longer rack though means that it requires drivers to actually turn their steering wheel to an angle that is more than just the 90º in one direction or the other when it comes to performing a U-turn for instance. Or to put it even more simply, normal cars require drivers to turn the steering wheel multiple times to get from lock-to-lock.
Now the act of turning the wheel multiple times from lock-to-lock is not typically a problem with a typical round wheel, or even an atypical squircle wheel for that matter. However this does get rather hard when the top of the steering wheel is not there any more, and you’re grabbing at air when it comes to turning this yoke-style steering wheel.
Before the Tesla cult flay me alive for daring to criticise their beloved products (read: investments), I do have to admit that, from a safety perspective, the idea of not having to take your hands off the wheel is a noble idea in itself. Furthermore, this yoke-style steering wheel may actually have a chance of working, albeit under some pretty huge caveats.
These new Teslas with the yoke-style steering could for instance have a short rack (alá Formula 1) with an insanely variable steering ratio. This is so that every turn can be executed just by turning the yoke slightly in one direction or another, all the while negating that twitchy steering feel that is inherent with such a short ratio steering rack.
Alternately, Tesla could very well play its oft-used self-driving card to claim that drivers of its cars would not ever need to touch the steering anyway, and that the steering wheel is just for emergency use only. After all, Elon did previously go on the record before promising that all its products would have been “fully self-driving” by… 2016.
Yeah, so that didn’t happen.
Just to cap it all off, the shape of the steering wheel aside, Tesla has also, in their infinite wisdom, decided that capacitive touch buttons are the way to go for not only the indicators, but also the horn. Y’know, the things that are the driver’s only means of communicating their intentions to other road users are now on same type of buttons that many would have experienced mis-pressing on their microwaves or their smartphones.
In summary then, just looking at it, this K.I.T.T-esque yoke-style steering wheel may be considered by many to be the coolest Tesla innovation yet. Practically however, it is perhaps the daftest and most impractical innovation that this Silicon Valley automaker has made (thus far).
Of course, having pinned my opinion to the mast for all to see, this new yoke style steering wheel could be the future for all I know. Just look at the giant central screen that Tesla pioneered, and now every other automaker is copying.
Then again though, one could think of Tesla’s innovation streak as being akin to the story of Icarus flying closer and closer to the sun. Eventually, they are going to get burned and this yoke-style steering wheel may just be the thing that does it.