Tesla’s Model 3 has made one of the biggest design changes in automotive history

Tesla Model 3
The first production Tesla Model 3. Screenshot via Elon Musk

Tesla will launch the Model 3, its first mass-market vehicle, on Friday night.

The $US35,000 all-electric vehicle is Tesla’s bid to enter the mass market and sell hundreds of thousands of cars to customers who haven’t been able to afford the pricey Model S sedan or Model X SUV, each of which goes for about $US100,000 on average.

So the Model 3 is something of a game changer for Tesla. But it may include some other major changes, starting with a longtime feature on automobiles: the traditional instrument cluster.

Mazda Miata
The Mazda Miata’s old-school cluster. Matthew DeBord/BI

Drivers are accustomed to entering modern vehicles and seeing two gauges: a speedometer, which displays your speed, and a tachometer, which tells you how fast your engine is running, expressed as revolutions per minute.

Years ago, it was common to see only a speedo, but the speedo-tach setup is now routine, even though the tach is a useless instrument for most drivers who aren’t piloting a Porsche or a Ferrari (where the tach is front and center).

Some vehicles have introduced digital displays and digital speedometers, located either in front of the driver or somewhere on the dashboard. Audi has kept the display in front of the driver but turned it into a “virtual cockpit” that can display a range of customised info.

BI Infotainment of the Year 4x3
Audi’s system won our 2016 Infotainment System of the Year award. Skye Gould/BI Graphics

But it sounds as if Tesla has eliminated the instrument cluster altogether and will use only a large central infotainment touch screen to control most vehicle functions and to display the data that the good old analogue cluster, with its round gauges, used to. (We don’t know for sure because we haven’t seen interior shots yet, but we checked with Tesla to see whether it could confirm the rumours, fuelled by some tweets by CEO Elon Musk from earlier this year.)

Tesla Model S LCD screen
The central touch screen on the Tesla Model S. Tesla

There’s solid manufacturing logic behind this. No instrument cluster means the dash can be cleaner and easier to assemble and install. There was some speculation that Tesla would replace the instrument cluster with a heads-up display, projecting at least speed onto the windshield, but evidently that hasn’t happened.

As Musk has noted, the Model 3 was designed for mass production. And mass production at the scale Tesla contemplates, millions of vehicles annually, requires procedural simplicity. Anything you can eliminate is good — even the well-known instrument panel.

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