Yoke steering wheel could be standard on future Tesla models

Updated Jun 22, 2021 | Same topic: Leading-Edge Tech Trends

It might look cool but there are doubts about its safety and practicality.

If you’re old enough to remember the 80s-era TV show Knight Rider, the true star of the series wasn’t David Hasselhoff, but the modified 1982 Pontiac Trans-Am called KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand). Apart from the onboard gadgetry, one of the car’s most notable features was a yoke in lieu of a steering wheel on the driver’s seat. 

KITT cockpit

Having an awkward steering wheel isn't an issue on a car that can drive itself

Surviving titos and ­titas who have always harbored fantasies of driving KITT will soon have Tesla to thank, as the electric car maker is apparently set on equipping its models with the yoke steering wheel. A U-shaped version of the input device debuts on the Model S, with the Cybertruck, Model 3, Model Y, and Roadster all potentially having it as standard as well somewhere in the pipeline. 

The supposed rationale behind the yoke is to simplify the controls needed for driving. Conventional control stalks for indicators, headlamps, and windshield wipers will be replaced by buttons corresponding to those features on the yoke’s face. Drivers who neglect to signal their turns using the stalks, take note. 

Tesla Model S cockpit

The Tesla Model S is offered with yoke steering

Other benefits being touted are better dashboard visibility and increased legroom, as the yoke omits the top and bottom surfaces associated with conventional tillers. It should be noted that Tesla is not alone taking up the cudgels for the yoke, as Toyota has also placed one in its bZ4X electric SUV concept, working with steer-by-wire technology. 

While it certainly looks futuristic, there are also questions regarding the yoke’s safety and practicality in everyday driving. Formula 1 race cars use yokes on account of the extremely confined space that a driver has to work with, but they also have quick steering ratios not found on road cars. What takes as little as 180 degrees to maneuver a Formula 1 car from left to right would be 900 degrees of rotation on an average sedan, a full tow and a half turns.       

Formula 1 car

Formula 1 race cars have a fast steering ratio to match the yoke steering's limited range of motion

Some consumer models already come with variable steering racks to address this technical limitation, but drivers will still need to reposition their hands (called shuffle steering) when executing a turn. This will prove challenging on a yoke, as it doesn’t have as much of a grippable surface area as a full steering wheel. Safety can potentially be compromised as drivers struggle with the learning curve. 

Toyota bZ4X cockpit

Toyota's version on the bZ4X electric SUV prototype comes with steer-by-wire technology

Ultimately, having the yoke as standard equipment makes the most sense on a car capable of autonomous driving, something that Tesla also offers on its models. But the company has yet to perfect the technology, and it would be best not to lose one’s grip on the old-fashioned circular (or D-shaped) steering wheel just yet.  

Maneuver around what’s new in the auto industry with our updates at Philkotse.com.

Joseph Paolo Estabillo

Joseph Paolo Estabillo

Author

Joseph has been a member of various car clubs since he got his driver's license in 2004 – old enough to remember riding in taxicabs with analog meters, but his fascination with cars goes way back. After nearly two decades of working in broadcast media, he shifted gears by coming on board as Philkotse’s first Filipino member and staff writer in 2017.

Apart from his role in Philkotse as Content Team Lead, Joseph has written episodes for Drive, which has been airing on CNN Philippines for five seasons running. He has also delivered content for various car dealerships based in the U.S., spanning multiple brands such as Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Jeep, Dodge, among others.

Keeping his hopes high and his revs low, he dreams about owning a Kei car when he retires. Hates slow parkers.

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