Could this be our first look at a mule for Tesla’s self-driving robotaxi? It’s a mule based on the refreshed Model 3 with cameras in completely different locations from the regular model, and it’s not clear what its purpose is. The car was spotted on a freeway in Palo Alto, California, sporting Texas manufacturer plates.

The mule doesn’t have side mirrors, and the side repeater cameras seem to stick out a lot more so that they can get a better view of the car’s sides. This could suggest Tesla is working on digital mirrors, which completely replace traditional mirrors and show the feed from external cameras on screens inside the car. It’s not the first manufacturer to do this, though, following in the footsteps of OEMs like Honda, Lexus and Audi.

Get Fully Charged

Mirrors might be the next to go in Tesla's quest for minimalism

Elon Musk recently said Tesla will have to ramp up cost-cutting to be successful in the face of increasingly stiff competition, and the next thing to go might be traditional mirrors, which will be replaced with camera feeds.

All the mirrorless cars from the aforementioned manufacturers have screens inside the vehicle placed very close to the base of the A-pillar. This is meant to mimic the place where you expect to see the mirrors on the outside of the vehicle, and where you normally look, but we didn’t see any screens there in the Model 3 mule photos posted on X by Nic Cruz Patane.

None of the rear-facing cameras on the mule are where you normally find them on a Model 3. Aside from the wider placement of the side repeater cameras, not even the B-pillar cameras are in the same spot. They have been moved inside the car, and they see out through the rear windows.

 

Even the rearmost camera located on the trunk lid is in a new position, moved slightly higher. We can’t imagine what effect moving it a couple of inches higher has on the camera feed, but there has to be a reason why Tesla engineers went to the trouble of doing this.

Tesla boss Elon Musk did say in a September 2023 tweet that future Teslas would ditch all traditional rear-view mirrors, including the one inside the vehicle. This could be our first look at Tesla testing the digital mirror system before implementing it in a production car, although it still looks like it has the central rear-view mirror inside the vehicle.

Get the best news, reviews, columns, and more delivered straight to your inbox.
For more information, read our
Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Having recently driven the refreshed Tesla Model 3, I noticed that when you indicated, the feed from the side repeater camera on the corresponding side popped up on the center screen. This is a feature I had previously only seen on Hyundai and Kia vehicles, but in those cars, the feed from the cameras appeared on the digital gauge cluster screen, not the central screen, so you didn’t have to glance away from the road to see it.

It will be interesting to see how Tesla implements this in production. Given the company’s propensity to simplify and cut costs as much as possible, it seems unlikely that it will equip its cars with two additional screens. The feed from the cameras may simply be displayed on the central screen, and every driver will have to retrain years of muscle memory and look in a different direction when changing lanes.

Got a tip for us? Email: tips@insideevs.com