Tesla Petitions the Feds for Mirror-less Cars

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Apr 04, 2014

You may recall Ray Magliozzi and I raving back in January against the archaic external rear-view mirror as a big drag on aerodynamics, and pointing out that Tesla Motors had talked about getting rid of them for the forthcoming Model X.

The Tesla Model X: In this early version, notice the absence of side mirrors. Those little nubs are extermal cameras. (Tesla Motors photo)It turns out we were ahead of the pack on that one. Late last month, Tesla joined the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (the trade group for 12 auto companies) in asking the federal safety agency to allow mirror-free cars, no doubt including the Model X. Since NHTSA will require rear-view cameras on all cars starting in 2018, the argument goes, those big wind blocks out there—descendants of the mirrors on your granddaddy’s Model A Ford—are redundant.

According to Wade Newton of the Alliance:

The government has stepped forward as a strong advocate for cameras on cars, and this action helps pave the way for using cameras in other ways on vehicles. Automakers already provide rear-view cameras, a driver-assist technology, as a standard or optional feature on two-thirds of the nation’s 50 top-selling vehicles. Additionally, automakers are offering about two dozen other driver-assist technologies like lane-keeping assist and automatic high beam control on sale today. 

Today, the Alliance is petitioning NHTSA to allow automakers to remove side-view mirrors and replace them with cameras that may expand side vision while increasing fuel efficiency. This idea has been in development since the 1990s, when the U.S. Department of Energy partnered with automakers to produce an energy-efficient concept car with cameras instead of side-view mirrors.

Volkswagen has already dumped the mirrors on its Europe-only XLI, because there’s no requirement over there. It’s rare now that I test a car without a rear-view camera. It’s just the direction we’re headed. Get used to it, as I have. I’m finally comfortable with watching my rear-ward progress on a screen.

The VW XLI: Those are door handles on the side, not mirrors. (VW photo)But federal agencies move glacially slow on things like this. There have to be public hearings and comment periods and such. So it’s unlikely that the Model X will be appearing with cameras where the mirrors would otherwise be. But maybe the second generation.

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