Step Inside: Some speculation on the Tesla Model 3 Interior

I’m one of the lucky few that has been inside the Tesla Model 3. When I took a demonstration drive in March, it was obvious from the moment I entered the car that the interior was a rough prototype. Sure, the floating landscape display wowed everyone, and the panoramic front windsheld and glass roof conjured images of a fighter aircraft “cockpit,” but what about the rest of the interior? Currently, we know almost nothing about it, and surprisingly, there has been relatively little speculation in the media.

I’ve been giving some thought to the Tesla Model 3 interior, and I’d like to share some of that with you. Let’s focus on three areas: the binnacle area, the steering wheel, and sun visors.

First, a quick discussion of a few constraints that will undoubtedly influence Tesla's interior designers:

  • 1. Model 3’s exterior has been touted to have a very low drag coefficient. Of course, that’s a function of the exterior design, but I’m going to argue that it might have a bearing on the interior design as well.
  • 2. Model 3 has a relatively low base price. The implication is that the manufacturing cost savings required to achieve the base price will have a strong influence on design, engineering, and production.
  • 3. Tesla prides itself in introducing automotive tech that leapfrogs the big players. The interior design offers significant opportunities for that. In addition, a really innovative interior design will differentiate Model 3 from emerging competition like the GM Bolt.

    The Binnacle Area. The “binnacle” is the area behind the steering wheel that normally houses a speedometer and other vehicle guages and information. For the Model 3 prototype interior, it was empty. Some observers believe that the lack of an instrument cluster behind the steering wheel might be a harbinger of a heads-up display in which all relevant driving data is projected onto the lower portion of the windshield glass. Elon Musk has alluded to the lack of an instrument cluster as making sense after “part 2" of the Model 3 unveil.

    But here’s what I think might happen, and it is a rather intriguing possibility. The empty space behind the steering wheel might not be empty after all in the production vehicle. It could be filled by three HD video displays driven by the rear facing center camera and two new rear-facing side view cameras on the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle. These would replace the rear view mirror and side view mirrors (assuming Tesla Motors can get consent to do so from the NHTSA and various state regulators which they've been working on for some time).

    These video cameras would provide visual output for the driver and also provide image recognition input for a future autonomous driving system. By the way, eliminating the side view mirrors might very well be one of the secrets that will enable Tesla to achieve a remarkably low 0.21 coefficient of drag that Elon has discussed.

    In addition, removing the rear view mirror solves an installation and aesthetic issue posed by the extremely large windshield glass, and eliminating the side view mirrors reduces part count and, I suspect, fabrication costs.

    The Steering Wheel. The design of the Tesla Model 3 steering wheel may exhibit a major departure from the conventional approach. Tesla might decide to completely eliminate the steering wheel stalks for ‘shifting,’ turn signals, wipers, cruise control, and autopilot functions and replace them with ergonomically designed controls embedded directly into the front surface of the steering wheel itself. Because this is a departure from the conventional approach, ergonomic design is critical, but I suspect the new driver interaction method could be learned quickly and would make the conventional approach seem quaint and clumsy.

    As an aside, I suspect that much of the landscape display functionality will be controlled not by touch interaction with the screen, but with voice controls, extending the current capabilities evidenced in the Tesla Model S and X.

    The Sun Visors. Because of the massive glass front windshield, it will be interesting to see what Tesla will offer in the sun visor category and how the sun visor will be implemented within the Tesla Model 3. The Model X has an enormous front windshield as well and currently uses sun visors that rotate out from the upper A-pillar. It’s possible that Model 3 will use a similar approach. The type of sun visor option you can choose will be a function of the roof option for your vehicle.


    Above: Tesla Model X sun visor implementation (Youtube: TimeCapsule Tech)

    I’ve included some artistic renderings here of one possible outcome related to Model 3's interior in the final, production vehicle. In any event, we’ll learn more about the actual Model 3 interior during the Musk's next big "reveal" for the Tesla Model 3. I did, however, spend some significant time talking to one of Tesla's lead interior designers at the Model 3 launch event. I discuss that conversation and further speculation on the interior design in my book, Getting Ready for Model 3. Until then, it’s fun to speculate.