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Tesla, Other Automakers Want Cameras to Replace Side Mirrors

April 2, 2014

Cars have always had side mirrors, but this component may soon be a thing of the past if automakers get their way.

Tesla Motors Inc. and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers recently filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to replace side mirrors with small cameras that would provide a digital image that will be shown inside the vehicle.

The 12-member Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is the auto industry’s main lobby group. It represents auto giants such as Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen.

Tesla and the Alliance are seeking the permission of the agency to ditch side mirrors for a more high-tech visibility feature. Side mirrors were made a requirement by a U.S. regulation called Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 111.

Both claimed that these visibility aids create drag because they protrude from the vehicle. They also create wind noise, particularly at highway speeds. They argued that cameras are the ideal substitute, as these are safe and can improve aerodynamics as well as fuel economy.

“In light of future greenhouse gas and corporate average fuel economy requirements beginning in 2017, camera-based systems represent an opportunity to increase vehicle fuel efficiency through improved aerodynamics by eliminating externally mounted mirrors.”

The NHTSA has yet to comment about the petition, which is filed the same day the agency made rearview cameras a requirement for all light-duty vehicles manufactured after mid-2018.

Tesla, the Palo Alto, California-based luxury electric car manufacturer, wants to do away with side mirrors in order to extend the driving range of its vehicles. Reports suggest that Tesla Chairman and CEO Elon Musk has personally talked to regulators about the idea.

In a February 2013 interview with the Silicon Valley Web program Fresh Dialogues, Musk implied that arguing with the authorities does not bring much success and that it would take a long time before change can be had.

“You can actually get these things changed, but it takes ages. Like one of the things we’re trying to get is: Why should you have side mirrors if you could have, say, tiny video cameras and have them display the image inside the car?” said Musk.

In this particular interview, Musk said that Tesla had begun to propose the change two years earlier.

It is not surprising that Tesla is spearheading the campaign to eliminate side mirrors. The company unveiled in 2012 the Model X crossover concept, which had cameras rather than the traditional side mirrors. That proved to be a quick glimpse, as the next concept Tesla showed at the 2013 Detroit auto show had side mirrors.

Tesla is not the only automaker to consider the idea of using cameras in lieu of side mirrors. Volkswagen opted for cameras on their XL1, the diesel-hybrid two-seater concept car that was the brainchild of Volkswagen AG Chairman Ferdinand Piëch.

However, in both cases, the vehicles were concepts. The technology has yet to appear in production models. Due to regulations, camera systems currently serve as a supplement to mirrors, instead of the replacement for them.

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