Exclusive: Tesla's Model 3, Project Highland Exposed: What’s Changing

By Kevin Armstrong
Tesla's Model 3 is going to go through some of its biggest changes this year
Tesla's Model 3 is going to go through some of its biggest changes this year
Tesla

Tesla has been working on a revamp of one of its most popular vehicles, the Model 3. The project is codenamed Project Highland and the vehicle will see the most profound changes since it launched in 2017.

Despite Tesla keeping the car under wraps for months, we now have early information on the major changes coming to the best-selling electric vehicle of all time. Thanks to a trusted insider, we can confirm and provide more information about Tesla's plans for the car. Inside and out, the Highland will change.

Redesigned Headlights

Caped Model 3s have been spotted with the front bumper, rear end and dash covered. However, more recently the incognito Model 3 also had its headlights covered. The headlight openings that were clear before were now covered in what appeared to be duct tape. Turns out there is a good reason for this. The Model 3 revamp will include redesigned headlights. The new headlights will be a different shape than they are today. Tesla has been providing some models with matrix headlights, but they have yet to be enabled through software yet. Tesla will continue to offer matrix headlights through this redesign, although it's not clear whether they'll be enabled at launch either.

The revamped Model 3 is known internally as Project Highland
The revamped Model 3 is known internally as Project Highland
The Kilowatts/Twitter

Bumper Camera

A new shape of headlights also means a new front bumper. There has been a lot of speculation that the front of the car is changing after recent images show a smoother front end. Tesla is always looking for more aerodynamics to improve the drag coefficient. However, there's another good reason for redesigning a new front bumper. The front bumper will now house a single camera in the center area of the lower-vent area of the bumper.

The location of the new camera will be very similar to the one shown off on the Cybertruck at Tesla's Investor Day.

The Cybertruck will have a camera in the center of the front bumper
The Cybertruck will have a camera in the center of the front bumper
Sofiaan/Twitter

Since the company removed USS, people have been wondering how the car will detect objects in what's considered a camera blind spot directly in front of the vehicle. Now we know.

Rear Bumper

The rear bumper of the vehicle is also being redesigned, although it's not clear why. We don't expect the rear camera to change position and there won't be additional cameras in the rear of the vehicle. The new rear bumper could just be to 'refresh' the car or may have cost-saving measures.

Mirrors

Updated mirrors are also joining the party. We're told that they will receive a very minor 'refresh' and will look very similar to the way they do today. It's not clear whether Tesla is changing them to match other areas of the vehicle better or to streamline manufacturing, but we've been told to expect a minor change.

Additional Cameras

Tesla recently launched hardware 4.0 on Model S and Model X cars, although many were surprised to learn that the new vehicles feature the same number of cameras as HW 3 vehicles, when hardware 4 allows for more cameras. This is where Project Highland comes in.

We can now say that more cameras will indeed be used in Project Highland. There will be three new cameras in all, one in the center of the front bumper as we discussed earlier, and two more on the sides of the vehicle.

The fender camera housing will now contain two cameras each. One will face backward as it does now, while the other will point in the other direction. It's not clear how the new camera will be oriented, but we speculate that they will be aimed off to the side to give the car a better view at certain intersections.

Some road junctions have objects such as buildings or bushes that can make it difficult for the vehicle to see with its B-pillar cameras. This often causes the vehicle to creep forward in order to gain enough visibility to proceed. Creeping too far forward sometimes causes the vehicle to be in a poor situation, where it has entered the path of other vehicles. These new cameras are likely aimed at solving this problem.

As previously reported, the repeater camera housing on the front fenders appears to be changing. It now appears to include a line that goes further back than the original. This could be part of the new design.

Project Highland will ship with Tesla's latest supercomputer, Hardware 4. The cameras themselves are expected to be the same cameras featured on HW4 Model S and Model X vehicles. They're estimated to be 5-megapixel cameras with an anti-glare coating. These cameras are significantly more advanced than the current 1.2-megapixel cameras in current HW 3 vehicles.

With the new front bumper cameras and the two additional side cameras, Tesla may now have everything it needs in order to provide a real birds-eye view that is often seen in many vehicles.

Sensors

In order to cut costs, Tesla is removing the vehicle's temperature sensor that is used to detect the temperature outside of the vehicle. Instead of using a temperature sensor, the vehicle will determine the exterior temperature based on its GPS location and weather data. This could lead to more accurate temperatures being displayed, as wind or other environmental factors can sometimes cause inaccuracies. However, owners will lose the ability to view the temperature in their immediate location, such as their garage.

Tesla is also making improvements to its GPS module which is expected to provide a more accurate location. In August 2022, Tesla applied for a patent on a multi-band Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) antenna. Various types of satellites and networks can be used to identify an object's location. GPS is just one of those networks. This new system allows Tesla to use other networks, besides GPS, in order to identify the vehicle's location. This could lead to faster location detection or higher precision.

Interior

Inside the vehicle, there will be some changes as well. However, don't expect a major refresh as we saw with the 2021 Model S, but it will still be noticeable. The wood trim is being removed and replaced with a fabric finish, possibly Alcantara fabric that Tesla already uses in the Model S and X.

The vehicle's dash will also receive a facelift, but we weren't given any details on what's changing with it. Again, this could be a way to simplify the manufacturing process instead of offering something new and improved.

There may be other interior changes, but these are expected to be the two bigger differences. We've been told that this refresh will be 'minor' and focuses on cost-cutting, however, it appears that Tesla is taking the time to upgrade the vehicle to its newest hardware and introduce new cameras, which will certainly be a highlight of the vehicle.

The Model Y project, codenamed Juniper is already underway as well, although it's expected to arrive after the Model 3 revamp. We expect the Model Y to undergo many of the same changes that we've outlined here.

Release Date

Overall, the Model 3 Highland's updates show that Tesla is always looking for ways to improve its vehicles and stay ahead of the competition. As is the nature of these things, some items could be subject to change. With these changes, the Model 3 will continue its success as one of the most popular electric vehicles on the market. Production for the vehicle is expected to start in the third quarter.

Tesla Update 2024.20 Lets Matrix Headlights Adapt to Curves, Adds Supercharger Leaderboards and More

By Karan Singh

Tesla has been on a roll with updates recently, and now update 2024.20 was released to employees over the weekend. This update builds on the many features in the Spring Update and adds a few big improvements.

Adaptive Headlights

New updates to Adaptive Headlights are arriving for European cars with matrix headlights. The new update allows the headlights to adapt to curves in the road ahead of you, enabling better illumination. Having the adaptive headlights work for curves is the second major update for matrix headlights. Update 2024.8 added adaptive high-beam support, letting your high beams stay on longer by turning off select LEDs in the headlights.

Update 2024.2 first brought adaptive high beams to the new Model 3, before it was later introduced to older vehicles with matrix headlights. At this time, it’s not clear whether the improvements to headlights around curves will be exclusive to matrix headlights or also support the new Model 3.

How to Tell If You Have Matrix Headlights

How do you know if you have matrix headlights on your Tesla? On the outer edge of the headlight, there will be a large, round projector dome, like in the image below. If there isn’t a dome, those are standard non-matrix headlights.
Another way to tell is to run a stock light show while facing a wall. If the Tesla logo, in letters, pops up, you have matrix headlights.

Matrix headlights have a circular dome projector on the outer edge.
Matrix headlights have a circular dome projector on the outer edge.

For now, North America still does not have adaptive headlight support, mostly due to legislative and testing issues in the United States. The US recently approved adaptive headlights, and a Tesla employee mentioned they’re working on it. Canada has legalized adaptive headlights since 2018, so we see this deployed in North America at some point in the future.

Supercharger Races on Beach Buggy Racing 2

Tesla is still improving its Arcade functionality, with the addition of local leaderboards at Superchargers in Beach Buggy Racing 2. It appears that each individual Supercharger site will have its own leaderboard, which drivers can compete on while their cars charge. Tesla says there will also be special races to compete in this Beach Buggy Racing 2 update.

Tesla owners can plug in and play with a controller, the touchscreen, or their vehicle’s steering wheel. Thanks to steer-by-wire on the Cybertruck, the actual wheels on the truck won’t move like they do on other Tesla models when playing the game.

We continue to hope that future refreshes to the S, 3, X, and Y will eventually receive steer-by-wire as well, as the feature has quite a few unique uses, whether driving or parked.

Autopilot Strikes and Suspension

An updated Autopilot Strike system, similar to the one that is on Tesla’s upcoming FSD V12.4 update, is on 2024.20 as well. At five strikes, users will be suspended from the use of Autopilot like before, but now Tesla will remove a strike for each 7-day period the driver goes without receiving a strike.

FSD 12.4 also improves vision-based monitoring and removes the steering wheel nag, but that’s not in this latest Tesla update, but will likely be added in the future.

Tesla tends to release new Autopilot features in their FSD updates before releasing them to the wider public for regular Autopilot use.

Hot Weather Improvements

The last set of user-end improvements coming in 2024.20 will be related to hot weather, the opposite of 2024.2.6’s cold weather update. This set of changes intends to improve AUTO mode HVAC performance in hot weather, helping to cool down the cabin faster, while also maintaining comfort at lower noise levels.

There have been several updates in the last six months to Tesla’s HVAC systems, all helping to deliver a quieter, more comfortable experience, with one of the last major ones introducing cool-down or warm-up periods before blowing air into the car cabin.

Tesla Software in China Shows 'Employee FSD Beta Program' as Tesla Prepares for Launch

By Karan Singh

Chris Zeng, a Chinese Tesla content creator on X, recently posted an image with Tesla’s Spring Update – 2024.14, with the words “Employee FSD Beta Program: Registered.”

He also confirmed that although this text appears in the vehicle, there are no actual FSD features enabled yet.

FSD Beta Coming to China

Recently, Tesla began to offer Enhanced Autopilot subscriptions in China, and Chinese corporate giant Baidu announced that it will be providing enhanced 3D mapping for Tesla vehicles as well.

On a recent trip to China, Elon Musk spoke with Premier Li Qiang on the rollout of FSD to China. Later follow-ups said that “it may be possible [for FSD to arrive in China] very soon”.

FSD Shadow Mode

Tesla’s cars can operate FSD in Shadow Mode – which means that the vehicle is running FSD in the background without any real output except analytics. This is a common software practice that lets software engineers compare the process they’re testing against an existing known output and compare the results. In this case, Tesla compares what FSD would do to what the driver does, and any discrepancies are reported back to be analyzed.

With this information, we could guess that FSD has been operating in Shadow Mode in China for a while, and this new Employee FSD Beta Program will be the beginning of employee testing in China, providing even more data for the end-to-end process that is FSD V12.

FSD Beta, not Supervised FSD

Most interestingly, the photo refers to “FSD Beta” instead of “Supervised,” which Tesla started using with FSD 12.3.3 in March 2024. This could imply that FSD in China isn’t ready for a “Supervised” variant, and it’s considered to be in more of a testing stage.

In the photo, we can also see that it says “Wave 1,” which is what Tesla calls the group of employees who receive “pre-release” Tesla updates on their personal vehicles. Wave 1 serves as a final test for software before its released to the public. In most cases, the software is rolled out publicly within a couple of weeks, however, there have been times when bugs are found and Tesla releases revision before a public release.

Release Date

Prior to larger releases here in North America, we generally see Tesla ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) testing and verification vehicles on the roads, which have not yet been spotted in China.

Whether these vehicles will be needed in China is up for debate, but once FSD features begin rolling out to employees, we should get a better idea of a public release in China.

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