Why Does The Model 3 Have No Instrument Panel?


The world has had a couple of days to digest the details of the Tesla Model 3 after it was revealed Thursday night in Los Angeles. Mostly, people have raved about the car. It does have a sleek, sexy design, that’s for sure. It is almost a teardrop shape, with a large front windshield that extends back over the heads of the front seat passengers à la the Model X.

Model 3 interior

That leads directly into a long, sloping, all glass roof that ends just about 18″ short of the rear of the car. No doubt that slippery shape is good for keeping drag low, an important consideration in an electric car. The outside, then, is contemporary but lacks the multiple creases, crinkles, and cut lines so popular with other manufacturers today.

The inside is far from ordinary, however. The dashboard is devoid of any instrumentation whatsoever, save for a 15″ touchscreen mounted horizontally in the center. There is not instrument cluster in front of the driver. What’s up with that?

Chris Zeigler of The Verge attended the unveiling. He reports, “I was told by a Tesla staffer at last night’s event that the dash is essentially production-ready in its current state. In other words, the details may change, but the overall concept isn’t likely to change much; I would be shocked if a traditional instrument cluster magically sprouted between now and late 2017.”

Keep in mind that Elon Musk announced at the unveiling that the Model 3 will have a full complement of the sensors needed to make its Autopilot suite of autonomous driving software fully functional. What conclusion should we draw from that? One Reddit user, Red-Watcher, may have figured it out first. He posted, “The Model 3’s lack of instrument cluster is a clear indication that the Model 3 itself was not necessarily designed to be driven, but rather designed for Tesla’s Autopilot technology to take the wheel.”

He goes on to say, “I think the near complete absence of operator control displays is a logical move from Tesla because they fully anticipate their Autopilot technology to dominant the means of Model 3 operation by the car’s late 2017 rollout date. Elon Musk has repeatedly said that full autonomy is 2 years away, and that doesn’t seem to far fetched to me after seeing the progress made with the Model S and X Autopilot tech.”

Chris Zeigler agrees. “The remaining explanation, I believe, is the biggest one: the Model 3 is a self-driving car. [B]y completely dispensing of the driver-centric cockpit in the Model 3, Tesla is signaling that it wants you to sit back and ride.”

Wow! Got that? Tesla is building the world’s first production car designed to be operated primarily by computers. Talk about pushing the envelope and thinking outside the box! Tesla is so far ahead of the competition, it’s really in a league of its own. Now all it needs is for the legal and regulatory systems to catch up before the first self-driving Model 3’s to roll off the assembly line sometime between now and the start of 2018.

We knew tomorrow was coming. We just didn’t realize it was going to arrive so quickly.

Photo credit: The Verge.

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • Tony

    I think you are making a pretty big leap in this article. I have a Model S and the autopilot is great. That said, autopilot is nowhere near what autonomous driving needs to be. I’m also a software engineer and I don’t believe for a moment that in 2 years Tesla will be there. I think that the single screen is more of a simplification/cost saving measure. My Model S has essentially 2 interfaces. Each with their own hardware and GUI. Eliminating one reduces complexity and cost in a pretty dramatic way.

    If the lack of an instrument cluster can be proven to be elegant and functional then I’m all for it. I trust that Tesla is going to put it through rigorous usability testing. I do have to say that I think that this is similar to the mirrorless Model X prototype. A great idea with all the right intentions but perhaps not entirely practical in the world in which we live.

    • Steve Hanley

      No one knows what is in Elon Musk’s mind, of course. But I find the statement by a Tesla engineer to Chris Zeigler of The Verge telling. There ARE no plans to add a traditional instrument cluster.

      Is this a leap? Sure, I acknowledge that. But when it comes to Tesla. if we have learned anything it is that the company is accustomed to taking huge leaps where others take only baby steps.

      In the comment below, James has suggested that full Autopilot capability may be an extra cost option and that makes sense. All I can say is, we shall see. I won’t be surprised if we are surprised and amazed by certain features of the car when it finally goes into production.

      Thank you for you input.

    • John

      Model S autopilot is advanced compared to competitors but also limited by the installed sensors (dating back to 2012, no 360 video/radar). Model 3 in 2018 is a new vehicle platform from the ground up designed with autonomy in mind.

  • James Rowland

    Note what was not said in Elon’s presentation:

    Autpilot hardware: Standard.
    Autopilot safety features (AEB, etc.): Standard.
    Autopilot convenience features (Autosteer, etc.): ???

    They’ve promised no more than what Model S delivers today. That means convenience features may be a paid extra in Model 3 and autonomy features may not be available at all.

    Clearly, they’ve learned from previous expectation management failures and are keeping their options open on this (and other) questions.

    • Steve Hanley

      Good points, James. I am almost as interested in hearing what Elon has in store for Phase 2 as I was in seeing what the car looked like. Elon isn’t done with his shock and awe assault on the traditional car companies. Keep your seat belt fastened until the ride comes to a complete stop!

  • Marc P

    As someone who thoroughly enjoys driving, I can’t imagine ever using an autopilot function other then on long boring trips.

    • Steve Hanley

      Nor can i, Marc. But Elon Musk is not constrained by conventional thinking. He says self driving cars will be as common and automatic elevators one day. And he doesn’t mean in 2050. He is thinking more in terms of 2020.

      All the major car companies are working on autonomous technology. Musk just plans to get there first. Will the world of technology change as fast as he wants it to? Probably not. But that won’t deter him from pushing forward as rapidly as possible.

      My first cars did not have AC, cruise control, power steering, power brakes, or power windows and locks. Now i can’t imagined driving a car without any of those things. Even my 94 Miata has power steering and dual air bags. Imagine that!

      Remember that Elon Musk doesn’t think the way normal people do. He is a visionary and he is in a hurry to get to the future. He is quite possibly one of the most influential people in the world today. I think our cars will largely drive themselves sooner than we expect at this moment.

      • Marcel

        For commuting purposes, the more autonomous cars the better. So many people shouldn’t be driving in the first place.

    • Stop-and-go traffic.

  • Raphael Sturm

    The big screen and missing dash is probably out of anticipation of self driving, but I would not go as fas as saying it will be completely self driving as standard, at least for the first couple years. They would have to change regulations in all countries in under 2 years to make that happen.

    But I do think they will go for a head up display on the front windscreen, because turning your head to the right to know how fast you are seems a bit impractical. And it still saves space and can be turned off, if the car is driving itself.

  • zn

    The answer surely lies somewhere in between. The Model 3 will definitely come with an instrument cluster when it is finally released, however Musk is very cleverly asking an open question to the world – ‘what does a car look like when you take out the speedometer?’. The best part is, he didn’t even need to say anything!

    Tesla just doubled down on the next phase of human transport. That has got to send chills down a few spines in Detroit.

    • Steve Hanley

      Well said. I agree completely.

  • Jim Smith

    I am thinking they will have a full windshield HUD

    • GregS

      I wouldn’t mind a HUD, but having nothing at all would mean that I would pass on a Model 3. A gently used Model S should be cheap enough by then.

    • smelltheglove

      Programmable, depending on the driver, or lack thereof.

  • John

    Great article, I agree with the notion that there are clear signs of Tesla’s pursuit for autonomy:
    – Elon Musk’s personal comments that cars will be technologically able for full autonomy in late 2018 (legislation pending)
    – Elon Musk’s personal comments that Model 3 will have the next generation of sensors for autonomy (Autopilot suite 2.0): 360 radars/video most likely in addition to the existing ones
    – Elon Musk’s personal pledge for world’s top software development talent to join Tesla “to finish Autopilot and work directly under him”
    – The interior design. Cost savings is one, but smaller dashboard screen as a component would have been less than 500$ with Teslas’ volumes. When you look at their design drafts / hear the vice president in engineering’s comments, they are very certain about the selected path. The guy even said this 15″ screen is a better solution for the passengers (not highlighting the driver that much)
    – What was not said, Musk stated that he / the team were thinking that early-bookings would not exceed 150-200k but would skyrocket with the part 2 and features revealed there would make it special. Unless the car starts hovering in the air or has a range of 500+ kilometers, full autonomy is the best bet.

  • Disqusor

    This issue will be fixed 🙂 A HUD in the loope ?

  • AaronD12

    Having the display centrally-mounted, it makes the LHD/RHD switch much easier (and cheaper) too. RHD? Just display the speedometer in the upper right corner instead of the upper left.

  • Ed

    If you have ever seen what is behind the instrument panel of a modern car, you will see what I believe is the primary driver for the “floating display” approach shown in the Model 3 prototypes: Cost and precious space.
    One iPad-like panel replaces several integrated displays: Ka-ching!
    The HVAC system can become simpler, quieter, more effective and more efficient.
    Thinner IP assists the “cab-forward” design for enhanced interior space.
    Servicing the IP is extremely simple.
    RHD models can be done at far lower cost and production disruption.
    …and probably more benefits we have not thought of.
    I like it.

  • smelltheglove

    I always thought cell phones were a unnecessary until I had one, then 2 days later I couldn’t be without it.

    Then I got a Crackberry, and suddenly understood why it was awesome. But still, I could never see typing on a touchscreen with just my thumbs. That was before I fell in love with my Iphone, got divorced and married a droid, and then got back together with her younger sister when Stevie J died. What a jerk!

    I found my old flip phone in the drawer the other day, right next to a floppy disk and my wife’s collection of Pat Benatar collection on cassette tapes. I’m sure I can live without the knowledge of oil pressure, engine temp and tachometer in an electric car

    Moral of the story is……..WFT I ain’t go no moral. My kid asked for a friggin’ record player for her birthday. Apparently vinyl is back in.