How The Tesla Model X's Falcon Wing Doors May Well Ruin The Company

When I first read that the Model X would go into production with these doors I thought it was possibly the single stupidest corporate decision since "New Coke".

Let me get this out of the way right now. I am not a Tesla hater. Au Contraire. My daily driver is a 2012 Nissan Leaf and if I had the available cash, it would instead be a Model S.


No, I am quite the fan of Tesla. But that said, I think they are screwing up royally. This recent article from Green Car Reports lists three reasons they believe that the Tesla Model X is late to market.

For those of you who do not know, the Model X is supposed to be Tesla's next model to be produced alongside the company's flagship all electric Model S four-door sedan (some 70,000+ sold to date). It is envisioned as a luxury family SUV in the mold of the Infiniti FX-35, the BMW X5, the Acura MDX and any number of other crossover utility vehicles. I like to think of them as minivans for those too insecure to drive a minivan.

GCR lists three primary reasons for the Model X's tardiness that I will iterate for you now:

  1. Range
  2. Falcon Wing Doors
  3. Towing Capability

I, on the other hand, have come up with my own list of reasons why I believe the Model X is late:

  1. Falcon Wing Doors
  2. Falcon Wing Doors
  3. Falcon Wing Doors

Firstly, a little background. The falcon wing doors are basically an updated version of the gull wing doors that have been around since the fifties and that were used on such cars as the Mercedes 300SL, the Bricklin SV-1, the DeLorean DMC-12 and most recently, the 2011+ Mercede-Benz SLS-AMG. The reason these doors have never been used on a large volume production automobile is that they are very difficult and expensive to engineer. The load that the doors produce when open is transmitted to the roof of the vehicle, which means that this area must be heavily reinforced. This results in additional expense not to mention additional weight up high on the vehicle – right where you do not want it. Also, with today's airbag and side impact requirements, the doors must be substantially heavier than what might have been required in previous generations which makes the task that much more difficult.


And while we are talking about safety, there is another problem with these doors. You see, in the event of a rollover crash, rear passengers can become trapped inside. If the vehicle is upside down, the doors can't open. Mercedes overcame this obstacle on the wildly expensive SLS-AMG by fitting the car with "explosive bolts". As Car and Drive put it:


"After the car is inverted and motionless for 10 to 15 seconds, a pyrotechnic charge detonates in the upper portion of each of the doors, pushing bell cranks, which throw latches that release the door hinges from the doors themselves. At that point, your SLS will be in three pieces—if not more—but, hopefully, you and your passenger will still be in one."

Sounds simple, right. I honestly have no idea how Tesla is planning to overcome this challenge. I've seen it suggested in jest that in the event of such a crash, one door could be opened and the X would simply right itself - lol.


Another problem caused by the doors that $200,000+ hyper-cars don't have, but family CUVs do is the fitment of a roof rack. With the door hinged along the spine of the vehicle, there is no room for one. Maybe this isn't a world-ender, but in a family vehicle of this type, it is something to think about.

And finally, the biggest reason that I think these doors are a fail is that they simply are not necessary. Ostensibly, Tesla has said that the Falcon Wing Doors will make it easier to open said doors in tight parking areas as the doors stay within the overall footprint of the vehicle. Fine, but I am failing to see how this one possible advantage is worth all of the other shortcomings and compromises. Its not like we are all driving around in whatever we have today pining for the moment that Ford finally gives us that gull wing Explorer we've been dreaming about.


The main selling point for a Tesla, or any all-electric vehicle for that matter is that it is all-electric. Sure, the Model S, by all accounts, is a great car. But then again, so is a Mercedes S-class. All things being equal, Tesla will not gain or lose one sale because of these doors. But, all things are not equal. I believe these doors are the primary driver behind the Model X's delays. The Model X was introduced in February of 2013 and was supposed to go into production by the end of 2013. It was supposed to be an evolution, not a revolution. And, as such, it should be on the market by now. Tesla has now said that deliveries will begin in the third quarter of 2015 – we shall see.


I realize my headline may be seen as a bit of hyperbole and I have no first hand knowledge of where Tesla may be with the doors or the Model X as a whole. I am simply speculating. But, history is littered with the corpses of first mover companies that burst onto the scene and quickly flamed out after a larger and savvier competitor came along and expropriated the good and discarded the bad and seized the market. Tesla is a small company that makes one model and they cannot afford many mistakes. Every bit of additional effort that Tesla has spent engineering these doors is effort that was unnecessary and could have been spent on something else – like the Model [three horizontal lines]. And therein lies the crux of the problem. The Model X isn't even supposed to make Tesla profitable. That's the Model [three horizontal lines] job and it's not due out for another three years. Meanwhile Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Nissan, GM, etc. are not sitting still and are bringing about their own all electric models to compete throughout the automotive spectrum.

Look, I am all for pushing the envelope, thinking outside the box, etc. But at some point, you have to realize that it simply isn't worth it and it just might ruin your company.

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