With a strong hardware base, Tesla can upgrade the cabin electronics of the Model S remotely through each car's wireless connection.
Tesla's first car, the Roadster, served as a development vehicle and proof of concept for the company's electric drivetrain technology. While it provided Tesla with a huge amount of data for the electric drive components, it looks very primitive when compared with the Model S.
Only in its first generation, the Model S represents a huge leap forward from the Roadster. Where Tesla relied on Lotus and other companies for the chassis and body of the Roadster, it builds the Model S from the ground up in its Fremont manufacturing plant. Production is currently up to more than 400 cars per week, and Tesla is set to achieve its goal of 20,000 cars per year.
The dashboard shows how much the Model S advanced over the Roadster. Rather than a head unit, analog gauges, and tiny LCD, the Model S uses an LCD instrument cluster and a mammoth 17-inch touch screen as the interface for cabin electronics and other car controls.
The VCM on the left hosts an Nvidia Tegra 3 graphical processor unit and measures about 3 inches per side. Two VCMs of this type sit in the dashboard of each Model S, running the instrument cluster and touch screen. The VCM on the right is Nvidia's next-generation design, featuring a smaller board and an integrated casing.
The fully digital instrument cluster shows an image of the car when parked, indicating which doors are open. In Drive mode, the display changes to a speedometer and power gauge. Tesla programmed displays on either side of the main image to show the driver energy, navigation, and audio information.
The 17-inch touch screen defaults to a two-window display, here showing navigation on top and audio at the bottom. The driver can configure it to show a single screen, and can easily swap the screens. In developing this interface, Tesla emphasized that it should react as quickly to inputs as the latest tablets and smartphones.
Across the top of the screen sits a menu ribbon. Although the screen is large, it is easy to memorize the placement of each icon, and quickly bring up useful information without looking away from the road.
As an example of the different available screens, this picture shows the Model S electricity usage screen on top, and the audio screen below. Minimizing distraction, there are only a handful of screens available.
One area where Tesla's interface excels is in its driver personalization. Even the most expensive luxury cars rely on simple numbered buttons to save seating and mirror positions, but the Model S features this drop-down list showing the name of each driver. Selecting a name activates multiple personalization features, from seat position to favorite radio stations.