Let’s Bitch About Tesla’s Removal of the Turn Signal Stalk on the Refreshed Model S

Let’s Bitch About Tesla’s Removal of the Turn Signal Stalk on the Refreshed Model S
Tesla's refresh of the Model S has axed the turn signal stalk.

The indication of one’s intent to turn: Is there any greater act of self-determination and agency one has as a driver? Probably not.

It’s a glorious act, turning on one’s blinker, and the grace and ease by which that act is accomplished. A stylish flick of a stalk, in the direction you happen to be rotating your wheel, is likely one of any driver’s most cherished muscle memories. And now Tesla has yanked that stalk out of the steering column, flung it to the ground and defecated upon it. Let’s complain a bit.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the new yoke-like steering wheel of the refreshed Tesla Model S and marveled at what a goofy, attention-starved and generally bad idea it is.

Photo: Jason Torchinsky

The last car I drove with a non-wheel shaped like that was a dragster, and it only made sense because making turns was the one thing you really didn’t want to do in that car. The steering device discouraged just that.

The idea of making a tight turn or parallel parking or doing a three-point turn with that new Model S wheel just seems like an exercise in pointless frustration, all so you can, what — remember that KITT had one like that? Please.

Anyway, the questionable wheel design has been discussed already, so I’d like to focus on another driver-hostile decision that this redesign has brought: the elimination of the turn signal stalk.

Yes, the stalk that has been effectively standard on nearly all cars since the late 1940s was deemed not, I don’t know, disruptive enough for Tesla, so they’ve provided this instead:

Screenshot: Tesla

See that? The indicators are now a pair of what I’m guessing would be illuminated arrows on the flat surface of the steering yoke crossbar, and I think they’re supposed to have some kind of haptic feedback when you press on them, even though you’re just pressing on an undifferentiated area, tactile-wise.

It looks like the same approach has been taken for headlights, wipers, and even the horn.

All of this brings up an important question: Who the fuck wants this?

It’s one thing to change something in a way that actually improves how it works, and in the case of a control that has become effectively standardised after decades of use in millions and millions of cars, you’d better have a damn good idea to change it.

I don’t think this is it.

Now, I’m not against the occasional quirk or variation in controls like this, as they can sometimes give a car some charm. The 1950s-era Mercedes-Benzes come to mind, as they used the horn ring as their turn signal switch:

Screenshot: Mercedes-Benz

…but even back then it wasn’t really a better setup, just a bit different, and soon Mercedes moved the indicator switch to the expected stalk, because the designers realised that for a control that’s used as often and as automatically as a turn signal, why complicate it? Put it where millions of drivers have learned to expect it.

But even the 1950s Mercedes setup was better than what the Model S seems to have, as you could feel where the ring was and your thumb wasn’t sliding around a featureless faux-leather panel hunting for its target like a confused inchworm.

I know the Children of Tesla will tell me to calm down, Luddite, and that people will learn how to use these things on their own cars. But that’s not the point. People already know how to use turn signal stalks, they work great, so why make them relearn a new and possibly less-effective system?

And don’t get me started on the wiper controls — remember the ones that a German court officially stated sucked even when it still had a stalk — or that little horn button there. I can’t think of any car owner who has ever said of their various crucial controls, “Man, I sure wish these were smaller and harder to see and touch!”

Maybe I’m a Luddite, or don’t understand that we’re just moments away from when the car will just drive for you (we’re not) so this doesn’t matter, but I just don’t see how the removal of the turn signal stalk helps anyone at all. This is just a technological and design theatre, and shitty dinner theatre, even.

Also, the new steering yoke looks like a doofy owl:

Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

So there.