The Lucid Gravity Almost Got Tesla’s Most Controversial Design Option

Tesla fans are divided by the automaker’s controversial steering “yoke,” which swaps out the conventional wheel for a rectangle that’s more akin to what you’d find in an airplane’s cockpit or a Formula One race car. Some buyers see it as yet another stroke of genius from Elon Musk. Others think it makes driving more cumbersome with little upside.  

Up-and-coming Tesla rival Lucid Motors, for its part, isn’t convinced. The California-based EV startup considered adding a yoke to its upcoming Gravity SUV but had too many concerns about operability, Derek Jenkins, the firm’s Senior Vice President of Design and Brand, told me at an event previewing the new model earlier this month.  

“We just felt it was a compromise we weren’t willing to make,” he said.  

Unveiled at November’s Los Angeles Auto Show, the Gravity is a futuristic, three-row family-hauler with an impressive projected range of 440-plus miles. It will start at under $80,000 and go on sale in late 2024. Lucid’s second model after the Air sedan, the Gravity will give the fledgling startup a foothold in the huge and lucrative US SUV market. And Lucid determined that market isn’t ready to embrace the yoke.

After considering some 30 steering-wheel shapes, Lucid landed on what Jenkins described as a “squircle.” The unusual design gives drivers an unobstructed view of the sprawling screen situated just behind the Gravity’s steering wheel — that was Lucid’s main goal here — without overcomplicating the driving experience. In most cars, like Lucid’s Air, the steering wheel blocks at least part of whatever display or gauges lie behind it. 

“Of course the yoke does achieve the clear viewability, but then the drivability suffers, and we weren’t going to give that up,” Jenkins said. “If I want to back up and not look at the wheel, you can’t do that with a yoke. It just doesn’t work.” 

Indeed, Tesla owners and reviewers have long griped that a yoke doesn’t allow them to switch up their grip and that there’s a steep learning curve to doing anything besides going straight. One particular gripe is that Tesla’s yoke does not have a steering ratio that varies depending on speeds, making it difficult to operate in parking lots and garages. When making a three-point turn, for example, it’s much simpler to spin a wheel this way and that than a yoke. This ratio issue is something that automakers like Toyota are doing differently as they dip into new types of steering controls.

Tesla Model S Yoke

Meanwhile, Tesla’s yoke dreams may not be going well; the automaker introduced the yoke as standard equipment for two of its vehicles in 2021 but later made it a $1,000 option, perhaps relenting to the flood of complaints.  

The Gravity’s squircular steerer also allows drivers to more comfortably reach the 34-inch display behind it, which is important because it’s a full touchscreen, said Eric Bach, Lucid’s Chief Engineer. New electric cars typically ditch analog gauges for sleeker, digital setups. But a touchscreen directly behind the steering wheel is highly unusual, and we don’t yet know what kinds of capabilities Lucid is cooking up.