Automotive > Powertrain, Body, Chassis & Safety Blog

How Tesla Could Make the Yoke Steering Work, With Tech Pioneered by Ford

by Edward Sanchez | Feb 23, 2021

2015 Ford Adaptive Steering SystemYou may have read my previous blog post, in which I posit that Tesla’s controversial “yoke” wheel design the company has shown for the updated 2021 Model S and Model X, while unconventional, isn’t technically “illegal” under current guidelines in either the U.S. or Europe. While it may not be illegal, one could make the case that it would be impractical with a conventional steering system. However, the steering wheel design could be made to work quite well with the application of some technology pioneered by none other than Ford Motor Company.

Ford introduced its Adaptive Steering System in 2015, and applied it to the Edge midsize crossover, and later to the all-new 2017 F-Series Super Duty full-size trucks. The system is ingeniously simple and adaptable to both electric and hydraulic-assist power steering systems, and to the end user, is almost transparent. I experienced this system myself during my first drive of the 2017 Super Duty in my previous job. The Ford F-Series Super Duty is by no means a small or dainty vehicle. Even calling it “nimble” is a stretch. It’s a workhorse through-and-through. Capability is first and foremost. Ease of maneuverability and parking is WAY down the list of design priorities for it.

Yet who wouldn’t appreciate a vehicle being a little easier to drive, even incrementally? I can tell you from first-hand experience that the Ford Adaptive Steering system is indeed effective, and would be very appreciated by anyone who had experience driving a Super Duty that didn’t have the system.

To put it in a nutshell, the Ford Adaptive Steering system puts a ring gear and compact electric motor within the steering wheel hub itself, effectively adding a little extra leverage with the motor and gear to multiply the steering input given by the driver. This comes in most handy in slightly lower-speed settings such as urban driving or parking. My experience with it was in a slalom/obstacle course set up by Ford for demonstration purposes. Driving a vehicle equipped with the system felt natural and intuitive. At no time was there a sensation of manipulation or being “out-of-control.” The truck just felt surprisingly responsive and agile for its size. Getting into another truck back-to-back without the system manifested itself in a lot more arm-flailing and hand-over-hand steering.

2021 Tesla Model S Interior

All of that to come full-circle in saying that if Tesla employed a similar system in the Model S or Model X, suddenly the yoke steering wheel design arguably makes more sense. At lower speeds, relatively smaller angular inputs with the yoke wheel could be multiplied by such a system to make lower-speed driving feel more natural and intuitive, rather than awkward. Since the system came out more than 5 years ago, I don’t know if Ford still holds the exclusive patent on the technology, or if it’s now free game for other automakers to use. If it is, the Model S and X with their yoke wheels seem like the most logical applications of the technology if there ever was one.

I don’t know if Tesla and Elon Musk are still bitter from the trademark battle with Ford over “Model E” but in this case, he needs to get over it, and admit Ford had a good idea for once. Although there are reports that refreshed S and X models are running around with conventional “hoop” steering wheels, indicating the yoke may end up being an option. If the yoke wheel is indeed ultimately permitted by NHTSA and other regulatory agencies, a version of Ford’s Adaptive Steering system might make the yoke wheel more palatable to the masses.

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