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2014 Tesla Model X 'Falcon Doors' May Limit Crossover Utility

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Tesla Model X  -  Official Debut, Los Angeles, February 2012

Tesla Model X - Official Debut, Los Angeles, February 2012

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Less than twenty-four hours ago, Tesla Motors unveiled its enigmatic 2014 Model X Crossover SUV to the world, becoming the first automaker to promise a crossover utility with doors you’d normally find on a sports car. 

But while its ostentatious falcon doors might gain it some design kudos, it could also give Tesla some extra headaches when bringing it to market.

No Roof Rack

Look at almost any SUV on the market today, and the chance are you can buy an array of roof-mounted luggage racks, from the humble roof box through to fully automated bicycle carriers. 

But with doors that hinge upwards, roof racks become an impossibility. 

And while we admit that as with any car, a roof rack would severely affect the Model X’s aerodynamic drag and thus the range it could give on a full charge, we feel most SUV buyers expect to be able to carry luggage on the roof if they need to. 

Tesla Model X

Tesla Model X

Enlarge Photo

Of course, we have to acknowledge that the lack of roof rack capability isn’t necessarily a bad thing altogether. 

Without the ability to carry luggage on a roof rack, Tesla engineers know that the Model X will be able to retain its low center of gravity, regardless of how it is used. And that means predictable, exceptional handling. 

Rollovers

Like any car sold in the U.S. will have to prove itself in tough crash tests, which will include rollover safety tests. 

But with falcon doors and an almost all-glass roof, the 2014 Model X may encounter some additional engineering challenges.

Firstly comes roof strength. Rather than transmit loads through a series of steel or aluminum reinforcements as most solid car roofs do, the Model X will have to transmit impact and load forces through the glass itself, as well as through the heavy falcon doors. 

Tesla Model X

Tesla Model X

Enlarge Photo

Secondly, while traditional car doors will open even if the car is on its roof, falcon-winged doors will not be able to open fully if the car is resting on its roof, hindering recuse attempts in the event of a crash. 

In order to overcome this, we’d expect Tesla engineers to have built some form of safety detachment system into the Model X’s falcon door hinges.

In the same way that an airbag is activated in the event of a crash, we’d expect a sensor to trigger a detonation system that could detach the doors from the car in the case of a rollover. 

Extra Complexity = Extra Cost

In adding falcon wing doors, Tesla has solved a problem that many car buyers didn’t even think they had, namely poor second- and third-row seat access. 

At the same time however, Tesla has turned the door from a simple hinge into an extremely complicated, fully-automated, articulated machine. 

That, as well as the all-glass roof, will no-doubt increase production costs dramatically, resulting in a hefty sticker price. 

What Do You Think?

We love the Tesla Model X’s sweeping lines, spacious interior and impressive performance specs, but we can’t help but wonder if its mix of regular front and falcon rear doors make for a car that’s just too quirky for the regular SUV buyer. 

But what do you think? Has Tesla made things hard for itself in the pursuit of design excellence, or are the falcon wings the pinnacle of practicality? 

Let us know in the Comments below. 

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Comments (37)
  1. Let's be honest, how many people driving a lexus RX or any other luxury crossover use the roof racks? :) Not that many
     
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  2. I totally agree. That being said, with Tesla's high level of engineering, it would not be complex to have a roof rack that moves completely out of the way for the doors to open (e.g. cantilevered forward).
     
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  3. This isn't the first concept car to have unconventional doors. But why take something simple and make it complicated? It's like the pop-out handles on the Model S, if they fail what do you do? And why risk the reputation of the car with needless gadgets? I just hope Tesla's attempt to one up the established automakers doesn't come back to haunt them.
     
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  4. There are plenty of very complicated designs on extremely reliable cars today. A design can be complex and extremely durable.

    I applaud Tesla for taking creative approaches, not just rolling another clone off the line.
     
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  5. I like the doors and your right it's not a clone it's completely new. I am a Tesla fan I just don't want to see Tesla try to make something that may turn out to hurt them if by chance these innovative features turn out to be unreliable.
     
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  6. 3 production cars I can think of had gullwing doors - the same thing as you're calling 'falcon wing' here, for some reason.

    Unlike the Bricklin and the Mercedes300SL which didn't worry too much about rollovers, the DeLorean was tested for egress in the case of a rollover. It was found that a 160lb man could still open the door and wriggle out. Failing that, one could kick out the double laminated safety glass of the windshield and get out.

    Several other cars such as scissor doors (Lamborghini), butterfly doors (Maclaren F1) etc. and because those sports exotics are capable of high speeds there have been several involved in accidents in which the car ended up on the roof - yet the doors don't seem to be a problem.
     
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  7. The builder of the car himself differentiates "falcon wing" from "gull wing." Falcon wing doors have a hinge that articulates slightly to keep the radius tighter upon opening and closing as to not hit neighboring cars.
     
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  8. Opening the doors in a tightly packed parking lot will prove to be....well, lets just say 'challenging' is a nice way of putting it.
     
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  9. @Rober Christiansen, you are correct that old-fashioned gullwing type swing-out-and-up doors did require a wide space to open.
    But you haven't read the details of the Tesla Model X falcon doors. They are double-hinged, actually designed to open in less space than a standard door (let alone a gullwing door). They only move out from the vehicle about one foot because they bend like an arm at the corner, with the "elbow" moving upwards to lift the door.
    View the demo at http://www.teslamotors.com/modelx under the heading "Whoa" where it says click and drag, to see the doors in action
     
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  10. I've seen the space available in the Model X with the second and third seats folded down and that provided more space than any roof rack. Most SUVs have very limited space - the Model X can hold an awful lot more stuff than any SUV on the road, for obvious reasons. Rook racks will become passe with the Model X.
    And to refer to the doors as "stylish points" is totally off the mark - they provide enormous functionality in terms of ingress/egress (and they also keep the rain off of you more effectively). All that counts for much than any loss in the ability to bolt a rack on the roof, which, as I said, the Model X hardly has any need for in the first place. Those doors have solved a lot of issues with SUVs and their lack of practicality.
     
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  11. You said everything I was going to say. Tesla is a smart automaker and I do not think they would overlook the problem those doors would cause in a rollover or opening in a crowded parking lot. I think those doors are fantastic and very handy if it is raining or snowing and you are trying to buckle that kid into a safety seat. You can always hook that canoe or bicycle onto a trailer hitch. It is those doors that would get me to buy the vehicle; that and it being an all electric.
     
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  12. I think Elon Musk labels this a people carrier rather than a SUV. That way the falcon doors make more sense: makes it a more practical people carrier while removing any "sports utility" elements the car might have had which aren't EV's strong suit anyway since they can't tow anything without severely compromising range.

    I agree though that it might add needless complexity and substantial cost to a vehicle that really doesn't need that on top of it's already expensive electric powertrain.

    More quirky? The whole thing already looks like a hatchback on steroids to me, removing the weird doors isn't going to change that.
     
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  13. Yikes Nikki, are you moonlighting for Fox?

    Look at the size of the "B"and C pillars and the central spine that attaches between them. My guess is that the "X" uses these components as a integrated roll cage structure.

    As far as emergency egress, I'll take the doors remaining closed and the cabin intact in a roll over situation any day.

    Most roof racks and four wheel drive systems are rarely utilized on the majority of SUV's out there.

    Let's road test it before we bag it, please!
     
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  14. Hear, hear. I haven't read a positive report from Nikki on anything Tesla related...
     
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  15. @Michael: With respect, it's not Nikki's job to be "positive" (or "negative") on any vehicle she covers. Green Car Reports is a news and analysis site, *not* an advocacy site.

    It's her job to report the facts accurately, add context where appropriate to help explain the news, and offer informed opinions where they move the discussion forward. In this case, much of the media was covering the "falcon doors" without looking at how they impact some of the things crossovers and SUVs are used for, so this article points out a few things that other outlets (AFAIK) didn't address.
     
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  16. I don't think EV advocacy is about mindlessly cheering on every new development in the EV industry. Only honest even if critical feedback can help companies like Tesla make their products more competitive in the unforgiving car market.
     
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  17. @Michael - For your enjoyment, I believe these two articles should readress the balance somewhat:

    http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1066795_breaking-tesla-making-faster-2012-model-s-0-60-in-under-4-5-seconds

    and

    http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1066821_2012-tesla-model-s-first-ride-report/

    As a journalist, we often ha ve to look beyond the hype and examine what the practicalities of daily driving in a vehicle -- plug-in or otherwise -- would really mean.

    Sometimes, that means we find things which aren't always glowingly positive.

    Regards

    Nikki.
     
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  18. Thank you Nikki, I stand corrected. Also, John - not all SUVs are created equal. I cannot remember the last time that I've seen a roof rack on any SUV in use. People that buy SUVs that emphasize sportiness (Porsche Cayenne, BMW X series, etc.) seem to utilize the people-hauling aspect of the car rather than it's ability to haul cargo. Last thing, I do look for balance in reporting - laying out both the good and the bad points is not advocacy, in my humble opinion. I had not seen the articles that Nikki directed me to, so I did not see the balance, as I stated.
     
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  19. Yes, Steve, even mentioning a possible minor tradeoff in any Tesla vehicle automatically proves that one works for Fox... Paranoid much? For those of us who actually work in the automotive industry, the concerns of some here about the doors seems legitimate, although different consumers have differot views, obviously.

    The there's you... A journalist writes a mostly positive article about Tesla, but it's not good enough for you. Even questioning one minor decision is not allowed in your world, apparently.

    I don't think the doors are a major issue anyway, but yes, I'll agree with some that they carry risks as well, and unnecessary ones at that. Simply attacking everyone who questions minor decisions is childish.
     
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  20. You could still put a rack on one half of the car and still be able to open one of the falcon wing doors, that will probably do for most people since the model x has a lot of luggage space compared to similar sized cars.
     
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  21. I can agree!
    I have a van with a sliding door only on one side! The other side just has no door!
    To a "half" roofrack must be possible, and no big problem!
     
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  22. Roof rack? one word... "Frunk"
     
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  23. No Big Deal about not being able to put on a roof mounted luggage rack. Not too many people who have them on their vehicles actually use them. As to Tesla’s choice to use complex Falcon doors, it could be very expensive to make them and make them reliable too, since a regular car door is just a simple hinge and these doors are articulated. Falcon doors unlike Gull wing doors lift up and are articulated so they lift upward more and they do not swing outward as much like one piece Gull wing doors do. Also Tesla would have to engineer the design of the doors in a way that would allow them to be opened by emergency rescue personal even if the vehicle ended upside down on its roof. They do look cool however.
     
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  24. Bummer that i wont be able to put surf boards / paddle boards on the roof. The falcon wing is a clever design, but it eliminates my usabilty...
     
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  25. FUD FUD FUD 'Oh no, you can't use a roof rack. Oh no, it might rollover. Oh no, it has a glass roof. Oh no, you might get trapped by the doors.' This is the sort of "reporting" I expect from another three letter news source, not GCR.

    If you have some actual data about the safety results, let's hear it. Otherwise this is wild speculation better suited to a blog.

    It is easy to throw rocks at innovations. Tesla could just do things like everybody else, but then they would not be the first auto company to go public in 50 years.

    If your #1 criteria is something that fits your Yakima, then keep looking. As Rick said "Frunk!" There is plenty of storage.

    As for the safety issues, S is the safest in class. My guess is X will be too.
     
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  26. I can't wait for the first person to open the rear doors in the rain or snow or try to get into the back seats with a foot of snow on the roof. But certainly designers from CA don't think about such things. The issue is probably mute anyway. All Musk is doing is blowing smoke in hopes of getting more financing to keep his sinking ship afloat. I do not think there is enough money out there to keep him alive.
     
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  27. Yes, Richard, only people living in cold states would ever consider things like snow. And, of course, none of the designers grew up outside California, etc...

    I also share strong long-term concerns about the Tesla business model, such as it is, but the difference is, I don't attack without facts. If Tesla is sinking, where's your evidence? Are the vehicle reviews not fairly good, to say the least?

    Yes, Tesla is losing money and will continue to do so, despite Musk's prediction of profitability by 2013. If the stock price stays even reasonable and funding is available, they make be able to barely live through the early unprofitable years.

    I wouldn't bet on Tesla, but nobody roots for them more than I do, either.
     
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  28. I disagree, I would bet on Tesla financially. I think their ancillary business activities (building and selling battery and drive trains to other car makers) will give them the cushion they need in the early years of developing and selling cars.
     
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  29. As for Richard's comment about Elon Musk blowing smoke, I'm not even going to go there. Haters gotta hate.
     
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  30. @Mittar, although we disagree in the end, your comments are certainly reasonable. My belief is that Toyota and Daimler will not use Tesla PTs long term and will use their own solutions and technology. Note that Toyota isn't using Tesla (yet?) on other vehicles outside the RAV4 EV, so only time will tell.

    The ownership by Toyota/Daimler is also badly overstated by some, although not you; 2% ownership means almost nothing in the long run.

    But again, I hope you are right and I am wrong. I hope they survive and get me a Model S or something similar when we're both in good shape financially. I hope...My hear loves Tesla, despite the hideous grill, it's my stubborn head that insists on doubting the financials long term.
     
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  31. haven't opened a door on any car that doesn't let the snow in. Most car doors now wrap up towards the roof and always let in snow.
     
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  32. Pretty simple solution, if you're one of the few people that actually need a roof rack, don't buy a Model X. Tesla isn't trying to be all things to all people.
     
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  33. Even if this vehicle had normal doors, it still would be a rich man's toy. An average person will not be able to afford it.
     
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  34. Probably wouldn't be able to afford the Audi's and Porsche SUV's that it's competing with either.
     
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  35. The poor access to the 3rd row is one of the reasons I didn't buy a Ford Flex. This kind of system, or minivan-style sliding doors, would have made the Flex a better choice for my purposes.

    I haven't yet seen a car with 3 rows with front-hinged doors that would be fully usable when you have an infant or a toddler in a car seat. The Flex (or some of the other 3 row four-door SUVs) would be fine if your kids were all old enough to fold and unfold the front seat climb in to the seats themselves -- but that's won't be the case for my family for several years.

    Then again, people with infants or toddlers don't have the kind of cash required to buy a Tesla, so my concerns may not be relevant.

    But, yeah, these doors would work for the Flex.
     
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  36. I mountain bike or ski 3-4 times a week. I hate roof racks. Hitch mount racks are better. Lifting a bike off the top of a car sucks and I'm 6'3. For my 5'0 wife who also skis and bikes a lot that is impossible. The hitch mount cargo containers are also nice and make access much easier. Really though with all the cargo space on the model X the only thing I can imagine on the hitch rack is my bikes and skis. Anything else dirty goes in the frunk.
     
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  37. I am from Norway. And here we expect to have the possibility to bring skis, kayaks and bikes on the car roof. Almost every suv in norway use some kind of roofrack. Ofcourse it will affect the milages, but most of the time that is no problem. I rally hope Tesla will make a version without these unpractical doors. Sliding doors would be the best, normal doors are also ok. Falcon doors = dealbreaker! And i really want a Tesla X.......
     
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