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Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Cybertruck in 2019. The prototype broke federal law by deleting side mirrors in favor of rearview cameras. Musk said he wanted to keep the digital Cybertruck mirrors on production trucks for improved aerodynamics. For a hot minute, it looked like the NHTSA would change the law to avoid a fight. In the end, Musk blinked first when he engineered a new evolution of the Cybertruck with traditional wing mirrors. But the CEO could not resist firing off one last taunt at the government.

The Cybertruck prototype, with digital Tesla mirrors is on display. Later prototypes feature traditional Cybertruck mirrors | ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
The Cybertruck prototype, with digital Tesla mirrors is on display | ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

In November 2019, Elon Musk unveiled a brand new prototype: the Tesla Cybertruck. The apocalypse-ready electric pickup was a dramatic departure from every other truck in history. For this reason, the vehicle’s lack of side mirrors did not surprise the casual observer. But the Cybertruck mirrors turned into a Tesla Vs. government fight.

Musk seemed to think analog sideview mirrors obsolete. He said he wanted Tesla to bring digital mirrors to the U.S. He revealed mirrorless prototypes of the Cybertruck and the new Tesla Roadster.

With this lack of standard safety gear, critics worried about the “dangerous” Tesla Cybertruck. But here’s the thing, automotive regulators in Europe do not require traditional side mirrors. The EU trusts rearview cameras and a screen.

Incredibly, the NHTSA appeared to soften to digital mirrors. The Administration hinted that it was considering relaxing the standards. It specified for “light vehicles and heavy trucks.” The statement seemed to refer to the new Tesla Roadster and Cybertruck.

Then, at the worst possible time, Tesla infotainment screens began to fail. The problem got so bad, the NHTSA forced the startup to declare a recall. Worse of all, Tesla admitted it engineered the screens to only last five to six years. Understandably, the NHTSA became wary of relying on Tesla screens for highway safety.

The latest Tesla Cybetruck prototype spotted with old-school wing mirrors

Tesla fans visit the first gen Cybertruck prototype at a museum. The startup has added traditional Cybertruck mirrors to their upcoming electric pickup. | ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Tesla fans visit the first gen Cybertruck prototype at a museum | ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

After the backlash, Elon Musk changed the Tesla Cybertruck’s design. Tesla fans spotted a brand new Cybertruck prototype. The EV was undergoing tests at a California airport. One bystander captured a video of the new truck completing low-speed turns. The video is very grainy. But as the redesigned truck pivots in a circle, the Cybertruck mirrors stand out in clear profile.

Though Musk caved to legislative pressure, he continued protesting the side mirror mandate. When a Tesla fan with the Twitter handle “McLovin” wrote, “Im not ok with side mirrors on the #cybertruck,” Musk answered the call. The Tesla founder and CEO responded to the tweet personally. He said, “They’re required by law, but designed to be easy to remove by owners.”

No state in America allows vehicle owners to tamper with safety equipment. A Tesla Cybertruck without side mirrors will fail its yearly state inspection. Some states do not have annual safety inspections. But if a driver is in violation of safety laws during a traffic stop, they can get in serious trouble. When the Cybertruck finally comes out, it will be interesting to see how Musk and his fans’ side mirror protest unfolds.

Cybertruck mirrors are not Elon Musk’s only tussle with the NHTSA

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk at the Cybertruck unveil. Musk added traditional Cybertruck mirrors instead of Tesla digital mirrors, but insists that owners can easily remove them. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
Elon Musk at the Cybertruck reveal. | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Elon Musk’s Cybertruck mirrors surrender may be an example of him choose his battles. A separate showdown with the NHTSA is keeping Tesla occupied.

A dozen Tesla vehicles–all on Autopilot–have smashed into emergency responders parked in the breakdown lane. After one such crash killed a Tesla passenger, the NHTSA opened a safety investigation. 

Once the NHTSA begins investigating a safety issue, the involved automaker has to follow a certain protocol. An eventual recall means the company must contact vehicle owners. They must also report any findings to the NHTSA, report attempts to fix the problem, and keep precise records of all vehicles repaired. Musk broke protocol when, instead of cooperating with the NHTSA, he pushed out an Autopilot software patch designed to prevent nighttime collisions with emergency vehicles.

In an open letter to Tesla, the NHTSA demanded Tesla present a reason Musk did not cooperate with the safety recall protocol. They have given the automaker a November 1st ultimatum to present evidence and threatened Tesla with a minimum fine of $114 million.


The Tesla Cybertruck Is Officially Delayed Until 2022