New Tesla Model 2 to leave out steering wheel, pedals and more, but you still need to drive it
Austin, TX, April 1, 2023 - Tesla announced today that its new low-cost car, known as the Model 2, will not come standard with a steering wheel or pedals. That's not because it will only work with Tesla's "Full Self Driving" system, but rather because they have been made virtual, through AI and the interior camera used for driver monitoring.
"Drivers will have several options on how they control the car," said Franz von Holzhausen, Tesla's chief designer. I like the leaning mode where you lean your body like on a motorcycle. Others like the virtual wheel mode, where you hold your hands up in the air in front of the dash and twist them left or right like you are holding a wheel."
The virtual mode is popular among those who have the muscle memory of driving the existing wheel-equipped car. You switch from forward to reverse by putting your hand up where the stalk used to be and flick it up or down to switch gears. You can also activate FSD beta that way. "Once we get FSD working, which I am absolutely certain is later this year, you won't even need the virtual wheel," said Tesla CEO Elon Musk. "The best part is no part."
Telsa has been slowly removing parts from their cars. Most standard car controls were replaced by the touchscreen. In the past two years, Tesla has removed both radars and ultrasonic sensors, though this disabled some features in the cars, including parking assist and auto-park.
"Every day, the team looks for more parts to remove," said von Holzhausen. "We realized if we took a couple of those ultrasonic sensors we now had a bin of and put them in the footwell, we can see where your feet are. You just jam down on the virtual brake or accelerator pedal. We can see how fast you are pushing your foot and apply the right signal." Also if you scream out "yiiiiiiiiii" or "oh shit" the car applies the brakes automatically.
As a plus, the same model now is easy to switch from left to right-hand drive when crossing the English channel.
Also removed from this vehicle are door exit buttons, replaced by a touchpad. The rearview mirror was going to be replaced with a screen but they still needed a place to put the cameras, so it stays. Side mirrors, however, are gone and replaced with camera views on the screen.
Also missing is padding in the rear seats. "Nobody sits back there and we had to get this car under $30,000," said Musk.
Tesla is investigating how to get rid of even the touchscreen, which replaced so many other parts. One prototype replaces it with a holder for the driver's own tablet. Drivers would put a late-model iPad or Android tablet into the holder and it would become the car's screen. "It saves a bunch of money, and you can take it with you out of the car, which means it can't get stolen."
Owners of the car can purchase Autopilot, but must keep their hands on the virtual wheel, pretending to apply torque to it, to use it. This makes it impossible to apply a "defeat device," as some other Tesla owners have done by attaching a weight to the wheel.
The new model will be built in Tesla's new gigafactory Mexico outside of Monterrey, Nuevo León. Customers will be able to order an after-sale yoke wheel if they don't like the virtual steering. Since Tesla started offering a round wheel again for the Model S, they have a supply of yokes.
Challenged on whether this vehicle would comply with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which require a wheel and pedals, Musk said, "We have those things. They are just virtual. Besides, I don't believe in the FMVSS."
Engineers are searching for other parts to remove, and considering the left rear door and going to three wheels. "Our ultimate plan, though, is the Tesla robotaxi subscription. That way we can leave out giving you a car at all," said Musk. "When you install our Neuralink implant you will simply need to think about going somewhere, and a car will show up and take you there -- if we can't take you there virtually, of course."
"The best car is no car," he said.