Safety First

About that steering wheel... The feds have questions for Tesla about its refreshed Model S

The new Tesla steering wheel design has raised eyebrows.

Photo courtesy of Tesla

When Tesla revealed its refreshed Model S sedan and Model X SUV earlier this week, among the highlights were a 17-inch infotainment screen on the center of the dashboard, improved interior appointments, and a fresh take on the typical steering wheel.

Reporting by Roadshow indicates that the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reached out to Tesla regarding the legality of its new yoke-like steering wheel.

Motor vehicles sold in the U.S. must adhere to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The NHTSA issues these standards to apply laws that are passed by Congress with the aim of the regulations being to prevent and reduce vehicle crashes. The government agency frequently updates these standards as new technology and safety innovations are made available to the industry.

Tesla Model S interior refresh 2021A new steering wheel and infotainment screen dominated conversation surrounding the interior changes of the vehicle. Photo courtesy of Tesla

The new steering wheel features a Formula One-like design. It has no stalks, which typically control lights, wiper movements, and turn signals. There are two rollers on the wheel for scrolling and various indicators that illuminate.

The NHTSA says that the best area for hands on a steering wheel are at the nine and three o'clock positions due in large part to airbag placement. Hand-over-hand steering, a movement that is frequently employed while traversing roundabouts and turning corners, would be particularly difficult with this new wheel.

Where the inquiry goes is anyone's guess. Automotive industry experts have openly expressed doubts that the wheel will make it to market despite the fact that Tesla is already selling the vehicles on its website with deliveries slated to begin in March.

Industry experts are also raising concerns about Tesla's lack of gear shifter in the freshened interior. Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO, replied to a tweet describing how the car apparently doesn't need a shifter, raising alarm regarding usability and data mining.

Expect more developments regarding this situation to come to light in the next month as the first delivery date promises near.

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The IIHS may increase the speeds it uses to test advanced driver aids.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently announced that it is considering changing the speeds it uses to test vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention systems. The agency currently tests the systems at 12 and 25 mph, but says that the speeds don't accurately represent the types of crashes the safety tech is meant to prevent.

Front crash

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is designed to notify of a possible collision and help respond with automatic application of braking. Just like a human using the brake pedal, it can stop the car, but higher speeds make it difficult to stop in time. The new tests would be conducted at 35 to 45 mph, which is the range where a large number of rear-end crashes occur. As Automotive News noted, an IIHS study showed 43 percent of rear-end crashes occur at speeds of 45 mph or less, so it's important to have a test that shows how well the tech performs at those levels.

A whopping 85 percent of 2022 vehicles earned a "Superior" rating in the current testing regime, so the IIHS will remove it from 2023 testing and Top Safety Pick award evaluations. Their view is that, since the majority of vehicles meet the criteria, it's no longer an accurate way of evaluating performance. In its place, the agency introduced a night test for automatic emergency braking systems that will begin next year.

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New luxury EV

Lexus announces all-electric RZ 450e

Lexus just announced the new RZ 450e


Lexus and Toyota have finally jumped onto the EV train, and we’ll soon see new all-electric SUVs from both. The Lexus variant, named RZ 450e, features a reasonable range, upscale interior, and neat all-wheel drive technology. We don’t have firm pricing for the Lexus, but expect it to start in the mid-to-high $40,000 range.

2023 Lexus RZRange is expected to reach 225 miles per chage. Lexus

The RZ shares a platform and much of its underlying engineering with the Toyota bZ4X and Subaru Solterra, but will take a more upscale approach. Though its size and overall shape are similar to the others, the Lexus’ exterior styling is sharper and sportier, with functional aerodynamic bodywork. A new Lexus logo is spelled out on the rear gate, instead of the traditional “L” of previous models.

The SUV comes with a 71.4-kWh battery that should deliver a range of around 225 miles on a charge. All-wheel drive is standard, and uses the RZ’s dual electric motors to shift power between the wheels that need it most.

Inside, the RZ features a minimalist, open space with controls meant to remind drivers of a horse’s reins. Ultrasuede upholstery and woodgrain trim come standard. Lexus notes the RZ’s head-up display is controllable via steering wheel-mounted buttons that handle navigation, audio, and other functions.

2023 Lexus RZThough similar to the Toyota bZ4X inside, the Lexus IS more upscale and minimalist. Lexus

Speaking of the steering wheel, the first RZs will be available with a round wheel only, but later on, Lexus will offer a yoke-style wheel like the one seen in the Toyota bZ4X concept and Tesla’s Plaid models.

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