This one could probably be filed in the “It was only a matter of time” folder: Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) is one of the first manufacturers to seriously explore replacing cars’ traditional door-mounted side mirrors with back-facing cameras.
The rear-facing mirrors were introduced in 1914, making next year the centennial anniversary for the technology that, for all intents and purposes, really has seen little to no change during that time. As such, government legislation has been built around the simple mirror system, making any manufacturer looking to change the rules leap through numerous hoops before the new system can be OK’d.
At this point, Tesla seems to think it’s jumped through just about every other hoop imaginable to get the venerable Model S sedan on the road. While a camera in place of the mirror would be a nifty tech addition to the car — as if this car needed more — Tesla’s not looking to get government regulators to update federal vehicle standards for the sake of squeezing in an extra cool-factor feature.
Instead, the removal of a side mirror would eliminate a large source of aerodynamic drag from Tesla’s future cars, GreenCarReports reports. The mandated mirrors on the driver and front passenger’s doors increase the car’s total frontal area; aerodynamics engineers spend a great deal of time in a wind tunnel to make air flow over door mirrors as smoothly as possible to reduce the energy needed to overcome that resistance.
It would probably be far more effective to remove the mirrors completely. Despite contributing small additions to the car’s overall mass, side mirrors and their 2-square-foot presence can account for 3-6 percent of the vehicle’s drag. By removing them, the aerodynamic advantage obtained would be equivalent to lowering the roof by an inch.
Tesla design chief Franz von Holzhausen ”bemoaned the cumbersome amount of regulations that prevent or delay innovative car design,” according to journalist Allison von Diggelen, who referred to an interview she conducted with Tesla CEO Elon Musk in January.