Last week in California, the Max Verstappen of the car industry, Tesla, unveiled the Model 3 to a rapturous audience. Tesla bills the Model 3 as the electric car for the masses and delivered cars to the first 30 poor unsuspecting souls. Good on them for being up front and supportive of the maverick brand but taking one of the first 30 cars from a car maker with a documented quality record you’d best describe as questionable? No thanks, I’d rather wait until they’ve ironed out this ‘production hell’ that Elon Musk has said they’re going to go through as volume ramps up.
Why Bring this Back?
In one of those “What on Earth are they thinking?” moments, someone at Tesla has had the bright idea that it’s OK to bring back a terrible design feature that was consigned to the past. The Tesla Model 3 has a centrally mounted speedometer.
It was a bad idea when Toyota sprung their ‘peripheral vision concept’ on us with the Echo in 1999. A quick glance down to check the speed and all you’re rewarded with is an eyeful of cheap grey plastic. Looking to the left every time I wanted to check the speed? Totally frustrating. At least with the Toyota the dashboard design still necessitated a different unit for left hand drive and right hand drive. With the 2000 Nissan X-Trail, it was just straight up blatant cost cutting. One dashboard for LHD and RHD with the steering column and glove box panels interchangeable. The gauges weren’t even canted towards the driver!
These are both economy cars though. These are cars where some cost cutting in the design is totally OK because they are cheap. The Tesla Model 3 is not cheap. Tesla did set the entry price as promised at $35,000 US. For comparison, the BMW 330i starts at $38,750 US. This lobs sparky into the hard-fought mid size luxury category. Against the C-Class, A4 or 3er you have to be on your A-game. Shortcuts in design and aesthetic are not acceptable. You could argue that being an electric car, Tesla doesn’t need to put as much information in front of the driver. You’d be right but at least give us a head-up display or a small screen mounted in front of the driver for basics like battery range and speed. This is a luxury car. Making sacrifices or doing without is not luxury.
Design by Cost Consideration
It’s all so the fledgling automaker can cut costs. Those little switches and buttons in your car cost money. Each carmaker makes them especially for the interior design of that make and model. The big touch screen means that Tesla doesn’t have to design or produce any of that. The problem with a touch screen is there’s no tactility at all. You need to take your eyes off the road while you find the button and activate it. A climate control knob or switch only requires you to take your eyes away from the road for a moment while you locate it, then eyes back while you feel its operation. We are only talking fractions of a second but there will be cases where this is the difference between hitting something and not.
Then there’s the dashboard it’s mounted on. You might call it minimalist. To me it looks like Elon couldn’t afford anything more than a ruler for his interior design team. Or they were all heading out to the pub and needed to hand it in quick.
In the End, It Doesn’t Really Matter
They’re going to sell like hotcakes because of the iPhone factor. Very smart guy and Neuroscientist Dr. Sundeep Teki writes about how having the latest tech gadget can satisfy base human needs like shelter, security, reproduction and most importantly, social status. Our brains are wired to release dopamine as a reward for satisfying these base needs and reinforce behaviour conducive to survival. Having the latest and greatest has become not only a compulsion but a necessity, an addiction. When was the last time you met a person with the latest iThing who couldn’t wait to tell you about it? What about a Tesla driver?
Not unsurprisingly, a neuroimaging study revealed that Apple products activate the same parts of the brain in its fans as religious images trigger in a person of faith.
– Dr. Sundeep Teki
So despite lazy design and blatant cost-cutting, the Tesla Model 3 gets a free pass because we’re essentially still Encino man.
Is this acceptable in a so-called “luxury” car? The Tesla Model 3 will be competing at the 3 Series/A4/C-Class price point – especially once a couple of options are selected. Would you be prepared to overlook the established and exceptional competition for a compromised design and that iPhone factor? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!