Published on April 5th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro


Tesla & Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Aim To Replace Side Mirrors With Video Cameras

April 5th, 2014 by  

Originally published on Gas2.


Tesla Motors and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers want to change the laws dictating the use of side mirrors, replacing them with video cameras. In the never-ending war for better fuel economy, side mirrors are the latest battlefield, and eliminating these aerodynamic anchors could drastically improve the fuel economy of many vehicles.

As Jo has pointed out, making the relatively minor change of removing the side mirror winglets can add as much as 1 MPG to the overall fuel economy of a vehicle like the Ford F-150. By Jo’s estimates, an extra 1 MPG in real world driving would save over 22 million gallons of fuel per year… just on new F-150 sales. So while Ford has gone to great lengths to reduce the drag created by the side mirrors on the 2015 Mustang, and even built the new 2015 F-150 out of aluminum to save weight, getting rid of side mirrors would be an even bigger victory.

Tesla rekindled the passion for wingless cars with Tesla Model X concept, which debuted with video cameras instead of side mirrors… though at the Detroit Auto Show a year later, the Model X wore more traditional sideview mirrors. Volkswagen had the same idea with the XL1 concept, which also debuted sans side mirrors, as these are the cause of a lot of aerodynamic lift, especially at high speeds. Getting rid of those mirrors means much slicker cars, which can go even farther using less energy, whether that be electricity or petrol power.


That’s why the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Toyota, GM, Volkswagen and most of the other major automakers doing business in America, have joined in Tesla’s efforts to lobby Congress to change the laws to allow video cameras instead of side mirrors. Tesla and AAM submitted a petition yesterday to take the next step towards mirrorless cars. So while GM is resisting Tesla’s efforts to upset the dealer franchise model, they’re on board with Tesla’s efforts to get rid of side mirrors.

Go figure.

While a few years ago such a proposal might seem silly, Congress has opened the floodgates to this kind of lobbying by dictating that all-new vehicles made by 2018 must include a back-up camera as standard equipment. It isn’t much of a jump from there to side cameras, instead of mirrors. I mean, if even the basest of base model vehicles now has to have a monitor on-board, why not use it for more than just backing up or changing radio stations?

Source: Automotive News

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Benjamin Nead

    Folks . . . buried within one of my longer comments, above, I outlined
    the real world danger that mirror-less (electronic) rear door viewing devices
    could pose to bicyclists. Perhaps worth repeating, since everyone here is
    suddenly now touting purported safety claims of these TV systems . . .

    As a bicyclist, I’m rather aware of the concept of “getting doored”:
    when a motorist is exiting their car without making a last second visual
    check in the door mirror to see if a cyclist is approaching. Numerous
    bicyclist get hurt each year – sometimes seriously and some may have
    actually died – when a car door suddenly popped open in front of them.

    If all we have in the future is TV rear view systems in our car doors
    that go dark as soon as the car is powered down and with drivers still
    taking a few seconds to gather their belongings before exiting their
    vehicles, I predict a sharp rise in “dooring” incidents for city
    commuting cyclists.

    Possible solution: one that relies on a clever implementation of optics (an ultra low profile periscope of some sort?) providing minimal aerodynamic drag outside the door, but one that – unlike an electronic viewing system – never goes dark when the car is powered down. If such a system can be developed, we’ll have our higher mileage potential low drag car door exteriors and fewer injured cyclists all at once. Everybody wins.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Keep the mirror-cameras powered as long as someone’s butt is in the seat.

      Build in a collision avoidance system that uses the camera’s capture to warn of upcoming bikes/traffic as someone starts to activate the door handle.

      • Benjamin Nead

        OK, Bob, that does go a long way in addressing the concern I have. But I’m still skeptical of additional technology piled on top of already newish technology that really could be solved less expensively and more reliably in the first place, by a refining of existing non-electronic systems (optics, in this case.)

        To revisit the conversation I was having with Doug (above,) there will come a time in the life of the vehicle (probably not during the time the original owner has it or the too-easily-impressed website auto reviewer will be test driving a brand new copy it) when the smaller mechanical and/or electronic systems will falter and the owner of this used car – who probably won’t be eligible for factory warrantied repair coverage and of an economic strata that might encourage them to put off upkeep for as long as possible – will have to replace it or have it repaired.

        Credo I now go by: simpler is better. Electrifying the drive train to get ride of gasoline is good, but “electronifying” every last gadget in the cockpit isn’t instant a path to instant nirvana.

        Anything mechanical is eventually prone to failure. A system that is designed to do the same thing (ie: roll the windows up and down, help look out the back, etc.) that the purely mechanical device did but is augmented with an electronic element is probably going to be more unreliable in the long run and more expensive to replace when it eventually does go bad. Sometimes the electronic iteration of the older purely mechanical system is a genuine improvement and worth the extra expense. Many other times, though, it’s not.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The problem with an optical “periscope” device is that the light gathering capability will be limited by the size of the front lens. To gather as much light as a mirror it would need to be as large as a mirror.

          A camera can amplify the light. That adds a bit of ‘noise’ but you’re not making a high quality print. It can convert to B&W in low light and combine pixels for more amplification. And an infrared beam could be added to let the camera “see in the dark” as some cameras can do. (Focus assist beams.)

          More or less likely to break? That I can’t answer. Clearly stuff should be of modular design so that it easily replaced.

          For example, it should be possible to get to the window motor without taking off the entire door panel.

          • Benjamin Nead

            We’ll, I’m sure more R&D will be put into a camera solution than a purely optical one. I just hope that the systems that make it down to economy level cars will work as well as the ones found in the expensive luxury ones. The bicycle “dooring” problem I mention above is also something I hope will be addressed long before these systems actually show up in future production cars.

            As for things on cars being modular and easily replaced, that has been the conundrum of the modern automobile for decades. I can remember reading an engine overhaul guide (an aftermarket “how to” volume put out by the folks who authored Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazines) in my high school years that detailed various tear-downs and rebuilding tips. I think it was an early 1970s vintage Ford V-6 (probably something that Ford was using at the time that had either Japanese or European roots) which required a special socket set that most mechanics of the day would normally never own.

            This special socket set (was it a 7-point Torx type of thing? I don’t exactly remember some 40 years on) had to be bought for a princely sum to take off the cylinder head. The authors of the book projected a very cynical vibe that their audience – the advanced amateur mechanic who might want to tackle such a project – were being unjustifiably penalized for having to purchase these special sockets simply to get inside, when Ford – or whatever foreign manufacturer they were sourcing this particular engine block from- simply could have put standard metric or SAE (inches) hex nuts on the thing.

            The situation has only gotten worse over the years, not better. There are specialized sockets, wrenches, drivers and pliers for working on the systems and subsystems of just about any particular brand of car you can think of. It’s largely been done to keep the Saturday shade tree mechanic distanced from working on their own cars and making sure their local service franchises are doing it. You already have a set for your Japanese cars? You probably need another set for your German or American marques.

            That these mechanics need to purchase these esoteric tools goes a long way to explain why certain repairs cost so much . . . that and the fact that technicians who know exactly what they’re doing and bought their own copies of these specialized tools are probably expending greater effort to remove, say, a door panel with fasteners that the untrained eye would not be able to locate.

            So, yes, the burnt-up window crank motor undoubtedly has a modular electrical connection that unclips with just a thumb and forefinger. Easy. It may be held onto a metal door frame with standard hex nuts or machine screws. Almost everyone has those sockets or hex keys in their toolbox. But – to cleanly pull off the door panel to get to all of that in a modern car – you might need any number of the specialized auto upholstery tools just like the ones shown here . . .


            The days when you could expose the working interior of your car door by loosening 16 Phillips head screws is long gone.

  • JamesWimberley

    I’m surprised they haven’t tried this out already in motor racing.
    Webcams can give much more complete rear and side view than any combination of mirrors. There’s no reason they can’t be made as reliable as mechanical mirrors.

  • Video mirrors are both a reduction in frontal area and they improve the Cd. Aero drag is the biggest load on the drivetrain at any speed above 30MPH.

    Cameras also have several other advantages: they can reduce blind spots to nil, and they work better in the rain and at dusk. They do not need adjusting for different drivers, and they do not blind the driver with headlights.

    • Bob_Wallace

      And the input from the camera can be used for collision avoidance system. A car closing in the blind spot could trigger the car to keep you from pulling into their lane.

      • Even with just the two side mirrors, I can see a vehicle behind me, often in both monitors, all the way to the rear bumper of a vehicle that is even with my shoulder. Each camera covers about 120 degrees.

        There are virtually no blind spots.

      • wattleberry

        Also, if combined with a recorder, would be the best tailgater and shunt deterrent around.

    • Omega Centauri

      It shouldn’t be a bug step to add infrared video which can see through fog. For now FLIR cameras are pretty pricey, but if a volume market were created that could come down.

      • Right, my cameras have IR LED’s and these help a bit at shorter distances at night. They already do very well in fog; for whatever reason. It is almost like being lower resolution than our eyes, they “see through” the fog. They excel at dusk and in other low light situations.

  • JimBouton

    I actually drove my first Tesla S this week. Pretty amazed at how quickly you get relaxed in that car. Great handling on the highway, which is a must for driving in the Dallas area. Changing lanes and accelerating in a Tesla made my BMW 3 series feel like a Yugo.

    The only issue I had was due to my familiarity with I drive on a BMW. For those that are not familiar with a BMW, you can control the navigation, sound system or phone with a knob in the console area. You don’t need to lean over to the screen and touch it, which I couldn’t see doing while in motion in driving a Tesla (or any other vehicle.) Not a sticking point, but I think BMW hit a home run with that technology.

    Other than that, the car was great, but I can’s see spending $90,000 for what I would want to configure (85 kw and upgrades.) I’ll wait for the Model E.

    The product specialist did make some interesting comments:

    1) January 2015 they will start offering deposits for the Model E. Pretty early, but I think it is a great idea to start bringing in revenue two years ahead of a product release.
    2) I was told that I can order a car at the Tesla facility in Dallas and in about one to two months, the car can be picked up in Dallas. No reason to drive to another state or arrange transportation.
    3) There are over 400 Teslas in DFW today, and they will be opening up a showroom in the DFW area this summer. (I did the test drive at their maintenance facility in Farmers Branch, Texas.)

    • Bob_Wallace

      I wonder why we can’t have all the important controls on the steering wheel along with a heads-up display as needed?

      • JimBouton

        Agreed. The BMW I drive (a knob you spin around and press down to control everything) is a bit more complicated than the typical controls on a steering wheel than I have seen in other cars.

        Changing routes on a Tesla S screen seems impossible during driving (or even zooming the map in or out) without leaning over to the screen and taking your eyes off the road, especially if you are in full screen mode with the map.

        I believe the model X (picture included) is actually raised above the dashboard, plus it looks like they have added more controls onto the steering wheel.

  • Doug Cutler

    I would be fine with this be would prefer if there were built-in fold out mirrors on standby in case of electrical malfunction. Right now we need to give the digital clock on our vintage Toyota a whack before it displays.

    • Benjamin Nead

      I can appreciate the aerodynamic argument for videocam in place of side mirrors but, yes, it’s always the little electronic gadgets that seem to break in any car I’ve ever owned. The OEM part replacement cost and installation is always far more that you know the doodat actually cost.

      I know an owner of a mid 2000s Prius, for instance, who had an intermittently working central dash display that – not too long ago – finally stopped working altogether. The price quoted by the local Toyota dealer for an OEM part replacement and installation? Something on the order of $4000! The other option presented to him was a non-Toyota specified replacement screen for around a thousand buck installed but – in a day when you can buy a flat panel touchscreen computer for less than a hundred dollars – this is obscene.

      I was riding in a friend’s Leaf a while ago and we were backing out of a parking stall in front of a restaurant. The setting sun was to our backs and the resulting glare rendered the backup video display completely useless. It appeared to be a combination of both the camera lens and the interior screen getting saturated in low angle sunlight. The driver, still relying exclusively on the screen image regardless, almost backed into a pedestrian before all the passengers verbally warned him to stop. If dash mount backup mirrors are legally required, they should also be required to use anti-glare technology (ie: such as found in certain laptop computer displays.)

      The unassisted rear view (mirror only) of the Leaf is among the worst of any cars out there, due to the strangely shaped tiny rear window, and I know many “Leafers” who remove the rear seat headrests if no passengers are being hauled back there. The Volt has got a better rear window design but GM puts what has to be the most pathetically tiny mirror in the cockpit, all but forcing you rely on the videocam when backing up and making you wish for something more far substantial for rear viewing while moving forward.

      Some things never change. My old ’51 Chevy coupe also had a central rear view mirror that was smaller than one you might find in a purse-carried mascara box. The first thing I did when I got that car was to spend $10 at the local Pep Boys for an oversize clip-on mirror. Despite the tiny rear window found on this old classic car (and lots of sheet metal between it and the rear quarter ones,) the big aftermarket mirror – used in conjunction with the external door units – gave me virtually no rearward blind spots.

      • Doug Cutler

        Ouch on the Prius! Corollary to Murphy’s Law: the more things that can go wrong the more things that will go wrong.

        Don’t know much about optics but I wonder if a clever engineer couldn’t design a smaller, more aerodynamic side view mirror with an interior viewport expanded by optics alone. A couple of lenses and curved mirrors positioned just so. Would be way cheaper and more dependable than on board closed circuit TV channel.

        • Benjamin Nead

          Yes, very true, Doug, that complexity for the sake of short term luxury invariable translates to a longer term bother in small part failure. Folks who buy their cars new and trade in for newer ones a couple years late never fully appreciate this. Folks (like me,) who buy those used cars and continue to operate them for the long run know all too well what a nuisance those gadgets can be.

          People love their push button electric window winders, for instance, but I have always found them to be a mixed blessing. Over the years, several have failed in cars I or my wife had owned. I’m going to guess that the little motor in the door itself is about a $25 item, but the going rate for repair (OEM specified part with installation) is typically in the $350 to $400 range. I had a nylon gear fail on a hand window crank mechanism once and, while I certainly felt the $75 fix was a bit over the top for the $3 part, the simpler non-electronic part ends up costing less when it it does invariably fail.

          Interestingly, the beautiful VW XL1 concept shown above, which has the mirror-less doors with videocams, also has hand cranked windows! This was done to save some weight on this hyper-efficient design. Too bad that all those more utilitarian mainstream cars we buy now all have electric crank windows in lieu of the hand twist ones.

          Here’s another thing to think about in regards to TV rear view replacements for the lowly door mirror . . .

          As a bicyclist, I’m rather aware of the concept of “getting doored”: when a motorist is exiting their car without making a last second visual check in the door mirror to see if a cyclist is approaching. Numerous bicyclist get hurt each year – sometimes seriously and some may have actually died – when a car door suddenly popped open in front of them.

          If all we have in the future is TV rear view systems in our car doors that go dark as soon as the car is powered down and with drivers still taking a few seconds to gather their belongings before exiting their vehicles, I predict a sharp rise in “dooring” incidents for city commuting cyclists.

          I’m also no expert in optical sciences. But I also think a better (aerodynamically cleaner) rear viewing device can be developed for car doors that doesn’t involve an electronic screen and won’t provide yet another new danger for bicyclists.

  • MelissaJMartin

    It isn’t much of a jump from there to side cameras, instead of mirrors.

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