The absence of a traditional instrument cluster in the mid-size Tesla Model 3 sedan has sparked speculation that the US electric carmaker is about to unveil a spaceship-like driving experience.
And if it all works to Tesla’s plan, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) chief Sergio Marchionne will build a rival to the Model 3. “I will copy the formula, add the Italian design flair and get it to the market within 12 months,” he told media in Europe.
But only, Marchionne added, if Tesla CEO Elon Musk could show him that the Model 3 was profitable. Reports say Tesla has received almost 400,000 orders for the Model 3, which will go into production next year.
Said Marchionne: “I’m not surprised by the high number of reservations but you have to then build and deliver them and also be profitable.” The Italian executive doesn’t think Musk can – not at the Model 3’s stated price of US$35,000 (NZ$50,700).
On-going interest in the Model 3 now centres around a 38cm video display in the centre console (different to that of the bigger Model S) and the appearance on the Tesla staff list in the past few weeks of hotshot Silicon Valley software engineer Milan Kovac.
Kovac previously was the chief software man at California company Skully Systems. He led development of the futuristic Skully AR-1, a motorcycle helmet for the consumer market that uses Bluetooth to connect to a heads-up display (HUD).
Before that he worked for Belgium company Softkinetic, which developed the ‘gesture control’ technology used in the latest BMW 7-Series. Kovac was project leader. Softkinetic is now owned by Japan’s Sony.
Also new to the Tesla team is Felix Godard, the man behind the interior design of the all-electric Porsche Mission E concept, which broke cover last year. The car’s dashboard featured a holographic display, along with a number of other futuristic controls.
There are another couple of hotshots, too – Mazda’s former exterior designer WooTak Kim, and Apple computer’s ex-chip guru Kim Keller. Keller is vice-president of Tesla’s Autopilot, an autonomous driving programme officially called Tesla Version 7.0. It was available as an update on the Model S last year.
The question observers are asking: Is Tesla linking the video display in the Model 3 to a HUD? Musk replied on Twitter: “Wait until you see the real steering controls and system for the 3. It feels like a spaceship” … and that it will all “make sense after part 2 of the Model 3 unveil.” Part 2 is due next year.
The answer probably lies beyond what Godard did with the Porsche Mission E. The company’s press release last year said: “Instruments are intuitively operated by eye-tracking and gesture control, some even via holograms – highly oriented toward the driver by automatically adjusting the displays to the driver’s position.
“The instrument cluster shows five round instruments – they can be recognized as Porsche, but they are displayed virtually in OLED technology. If the driver sits lower, higher or leans to one side, the 3D display of the round instruments reacts and moves with the driver.
“This eliminates situations in which the steering wheel blocks the driver’s view of certain key information, for instance. All relevant information such as vehicle speed is always within the driver’s line of sight.”
So, given that Musk talked of spaceship controls, will the Model 3 come with a steering wheel that controls a gigantic HUD on the windscreen?