The new Tesla Model S will shift itself into drive or reverse by ‘guessing’


Update, Jan 28: Late last night Elon Musk took to Twitter to answer everyone’s question of, “Where the hell is the new Model S’ PRNDL shifter?” but his explanation just made things even more confusing. Musk says the car “guesses drive direction based on what obstacles it sees, context & nav map.” Basically, the Model S will put itself into drive or reverse. Seems totally safe, right?

A new report from Electrek purports to have acquired internal documents from Tesla further explaining how the process works: The car “uses its Autopilot sensors to intelligently and automatically determine intended drive modes and select them. For example, if the front of Model S/X is facing a garage wall, it will detect this and automatically shift to Reverse once the driver presses the brake pedal.” 

Electrek added that the Model S would have force-sensitive touch controls on the center console under the wireless charging pad, but that doesn’t seem to be the case per another tweet from Musk. He said that drivers can manually override and shift the car themselves via the touchscreen, also adding that “after you drive without using a PRND stalk/stick for a few days, it gets very annoying to go back & use a shifter!”

As we said yesterday, we would ask Tesla for clarification but the company has no PR or communications department. Keep reading below for our original story.

The Tesla Model S was updated with a totally new interior on Wednesday, and the most radical change is the new yoke-style steering “wheel,” which looks straight out of Knight Rider. But what might be even more radical is something that I can’t see: It seems like there’s no PRNDL shifter.

Up until now, you’d shift a Model S into gear via a column-mounted stalk swiped from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin. (The Model 3Model X and Model Y use the same stalk.) But Tesla has eliminated all stalks from behind the new Model S’ wheel, moving controls for the turn signals, horn and wipers to the yoke. So how exactly do you shift?

There’s no PRNDL here.


In all of the released images, the center console and dashboard are smooth and devoid of any sort of controls, save for the 17-inch touchscreen and the hazard warning light button that sits under the wireless charging pad below the screen. There’s nothing on the door panels or the headliner, either.

The shifting controls could be found in that center screen, but there’s no visible evidence of that. The lower left corner of the screen shows controls for the climate control and the heated windshield, while the lower right corner displays media info. In the top left there’s an icon showing a top-down view of the car, so maybe the PRNDL is found there? But it seems like it would be extremely dangerous to keep such an essential function in a submenu of a digital display that could break.

No PRNDL here either.


Now there’s a chance that these CGI images are all at an angle that obscures the PRNDL shifter, or maybe they were rendered or edited to remove its location. The only mention from Tesla on the topic is this blurb under an image of the steering wheel on its website: “The ultimate focus on driving: no stalks, no shifting. Model S is the best car to drive, and the best car to be driven in.” That seems like an obvious reference to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system, which is nothing of the sort.

No matter how advanced you think Tesla’s Full Self-Driving tech is, the driver still needs to be able to put it the car in drive, reverse, neutral or park. In fact there are even laws on the books that mandate the order of the letters PRND and require that shifter position always be visible, as our friends at GearPatrol explain, and while I’m not sure if there is an actual law that requires a car have a shifter, it seems like there’s got to be.

If this were any other car company, I could just call the public relations team for an explanation, but Tesla dissolved its PR department a few months ago. Guess I’ll just have to tweet at Elon Musk.

First published on Jan. 27.

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