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Tesla Model S Prototype With Yoke Wheel Spotted Testing in California

Can Tesla crack the yoke, or is it just being different for the sake of it?

Another quarter, another big Tesla hype cycle, and the star of this season is Tesla’s novel yoke-style steering wheel. Coming soon to the updated Model S if deemed legal, the radical aircraft-style design has furrowed more than a few brows, especially among those who have driven ungainly Knight Rider KITT clones. Regardless of doubts, though, Tesla appears set on rolling with the yoke, as evidenced by a prototype Model S spotted with the new wheel in San Francisco, California.

Photographed this Saturday by Twitter user @klwtts, this car appears to be an older Model S test mule, as it features no driver-facing camera by the rear-view mirror. The yoke’s addition to a pre-facelift Model S suggests it may be possible to retrofit the new yoke to older vehicles—or vice versa as suggested by a since-deleted page in Tesla’s configurator.

Tesla Model S prototype yoke steering wheel, Twitter | @klwtts

This all assumes, of course, that Tesla’s yoke will wind up being legal, which as of its late January reveal, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration couldn’t say it was. The NHTSA told Road & Track it wasn’t sure the yoke met Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and that it had reached out to Tesla to verify it could. Given R&T has posted no updates since, the NHTSA and Tesla have either not reached a verdict or not established contact at all—not an impossibility with Tesla’s dissolution of its communications department.

Assuming Tesla’s yoke vaults the legal hurdle, it may require a significantly quicker steering ratio to prevent drivers from performing a clumsy shuffle in tight turns. But with a faster steering rack and a noncircular wheel, drivers may face an elevated risk of hand or wrist injuries during crashes. In racing series where drivers use yoke-style wheels, such as Formula 1, drivers withdraw their hands from the wheel before major impacts so as not to sustain wrist injuries from a violently jerking wheel.

Race car and road car crashes obviously aren’t the same animal, but are yokes really worth the possible inconvenience, never mind an escalated risk of injury in a crash? Until this reinvention of the wheel proves itself to be more than pseudo-futuristic gimmickry, we’re gonna have to say no.

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