Compared to the often-clunky infotainment systems of conventional cars, the 17-inch touchscreen Tesla Model is a breath of fresh air. So how did Tesla do it? A teardown of the Tesla Model S computing systems show more in common with smartphones and tablets than your traditional car, and that explains a lot.
In less than a decade touchscreen devices have permeated every aspect of society almost seamlessly…except for automobiles. Carmakers have struggled to integrate a user-focused infotainment system in a car, and while individual systems each have their strengths and weaknesses, the Model S has set a new standard for these systems. Except for the hazard lights (which must have a manual button by law), every system is controlled by the touchscreen. Meanwhile, the Kia Soul I drove last year had 42 buttons on the center console alone, with redundancy on top of redundancy on top of redundancy.
IHS Technology tore down a Model S they bought at auction and went through every individual system,and what they found is that Tesla took its cues from smartphones and tablets when designing its driver systems. Andrew Rassweiler, senior director for materials and cost benchmarking at the IHS, said in the report (via Green Car Congress) that;
The cost structure of the electronics, the use of large displays in the cabin, the touch-screen-based controls, the mobile microchips—everything in this design makes the Tesla experience more like a media tablet or high-end smartphone than a traditional automobile. It’s like looking at the components from the latest mobile device from an Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy product. When it comes to the user-facing segment of the Model S’s electronics, the company has radically departed from business-as-usual in the automotive market.
But the biggest difference (warning: pun incoming) is the sheer size the central touchscreen, which at 17-inches is 10-inches larger than typical automotive touchscreen. This touchscreen of that size is expensive, and represents a deliberate design choice by Tesla. It seems to have worked, as has the decision to keep much of the infotainment design and manufacturing in-house. Large automakers have a whole network of suppliers and typically farm out components to a wild field of manufacturers; by keeping much of the design in-house, Tesla has more control over each and every aspect of the system.That said not everything comes from Tesla, like the touchscreen itself, which was made by TPK Holdings, which made the touchscreens for the first generation of Apple iPhones.
Another sign of the difference between the Model S and other automakers is the sheer amount of computing power on board the Tesla. An NVIDIA graphics processor powers the 12.3 inch gauge cluster display as well as the 17-inch touchscreen, which helps gives every digital button a crisp, almost 3D look. Compared to other automakers, Tesla uses a Tegra 3 computer processor, whereas other luxury carmakers are still using the Tegra 2, which debuted back in 2010. In terms of computers, that’s pretty much ancient history.
Thanks to Tesla, automakers can no longer put forth outdated infotainment systems as the industry standard, and this could usher in a new era of driver-focused infotainment systems. IHS is working through the rest of the Model S, though if you’re interested specifically in the battery pack, then you’ll want to follow the progress of this guy, who’s tearing down a Tesla battery pack in his garage.