Wheel-shaped steering wheels are so passé. They’re still objectively the best solution for handling road cars that have conventional, 900-degree lock-to-lock steering systems, but the tastemakers have arbitrarily decided yokes are cooler. And so I fully anticipate more automakers following Tesla’s example over time, not because the idea is good but because they all desperately want to be Tesla.
It’s with that in mind that I study this rendering/sketch posted to GM Design’s Instagram page of a steering — I don’t know, device — that seemingly exists to ask the Model S yoke to hold its beer. Of course, unlike that yoke, this isn’t real and isn’t going in an actual vehicle. If it ever was going to, my first question would be how the airbag could deploy without spearing shards of Gorilla Glass at the driver’s face.
A yoke with grips is actually preferable to this, because at least a yoke would have apertures at either side for you to wrap your hands around. This thing, on the other hand, is meant to be held the same way a handheld gaming system is. Or, as my colleague Rory specifically put it in Slack, a Sega Game Gear. A Game Gear with leather-wrapped sides that presumably doesn’t burn through six AA batteries in an afternoon, but a Game Gear nonetheless.
We see this “wheel” shown with two modes: one labeled “Autonomous” and another “Human Drive.” In a world of perfect autonomy, you wouldn’t be steering at all, and if you were, you probably wouldn’t want to use this blown-up tablet to do it.
Philosophical questions aside, there are so many aspects of this thing that confuse me. What does that nondescript circular cyan button on the right do? Is the brake control between the drive and reverse arrows on the left for parking or slowing down? If it’s the latter, I’d absolutely miss it nine times out of 10 and tap the wrong thing, as if I were playing Asphalt on my iPhone. Speaking of which, look at how tiny the speedometer and other onscreen buttons are!
The Human Drive mode screen shows what I assume is navigation superimposed over a view of the road, which is a good idea, but why is it outlining road signs and vehicles? To let you know it sees them even though you’re the one driving?
The Autonomous display is especially weird — one Instagram commenter effectively described it as a Winamp skin, which got a chuckle out of me. Fuel and oil gauges on what is ostensibly a vision of a far-flung future is probably the weirdest part of the whole thing.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing concepts in this industry, even the wacky ones. As an outsider, I genuinely believe designers have maybe the coolest but also one of the most difficult jobs within it — being challenged to dream up something better, more refined and more exciting, while also having to compromise that vision with what’s actually possible and what the bean counters will let you get away with. The understanding that the more daring an idea is, the more polarizing its reception will be. It seems like a lot of tightropes to walk.
Sure, this is a fun little thought experiment, but the fact Tesla has put a yoke in a car you can buy right now makes it feel a little less pie-in-the-sky than the designer perhaps intended it to be. And it’s got me thinking that someone will try something like this, eventually, even though it isn’t solving any problems and would give rise to so many new ones. Because ergonomics ain’t sexy — yokes and screens are.