Tesla Model X, And The Curse Of Gull-Wing Doors

Tesla’s Model X shouldn’t apologize for its speed, or its suburbanite lifestyle.

Integrating iconic design is a tricky situation, especially in the automotive industry. Take Tesla’s latest Model X. From a young brand already famous for making watershed electric sports cars comes its first crossover—a family-friendly vehicle for the guy who wants to launch his children 0-60 in 4.4 seconds. It’s a car that, chief designer Franz Von Holzhausen tells us, “has the functionality and roominess of a minivan, the style of an SUV, and the performance of a sportscar.”

If anyone had the street cred to make a respected sporty electric crossover, it was Tesla. But they made one, big mistake: They borrowed an icon outside of their own brand, and in doing so, crossed the threshold from cool into self-parody. After Tesla revealed the Model X had gull-wing doors, automotive blog Jalopnik called the X a “DeLorean that’s had one too many In N’ Out Burgers. And some french fries — Animal-style. Like five orders of 'em.” It’s hard to say it any better than that, even if Tesla doesn’t want their doors referred to as “gull-wing.”

“Model X has Falcon doors, which are not gull-wing doors. They are unique in that they are double hinged, and can open in extremely tight spaces where a traditional gull-wing couldn’t,” Von Holzhausen clarified to us. “The Falcon door allows for an incredibly large door opening for better access to the 2nd and 3rd rows of seats, no roof to duck under—just step in…There is no car on the market with the access and usability of Model X which the Falcon door system allows.”

That may be true. When you combine the X’s Falcon doors with the rear hatch, the car’s entire back end opens. It’s as if you can reach in and out of half the vehicle like a modular convertible—a modular convertible with the storage of a minivan.

Mercedes-Benz

The problem is, as hard as Tesla would like to reinvent an old idea—claiming that it works within their context—these are gull-wing doors, any way you slice them. They may be branded. They may have had their chief engineering problem solved through clever design. But gull-wing doors were already in cars like the DeLorean DMC-12, Melkus RS 1000, and Pagani Huayra—and, most famously, the Mercedes-Benz SL300. How can a family vehicle possibly use them with a straight face?

“[Those] cars will be remembered for how cool they were,” argues Von Holzhausen. “Model X will be remembered for being cool and solving the problem.”

Tesla wants to play the design both ways: to evoke the style of cars of yore yet claim said style as wholly their own. Maybe it could have worked, but the error in their reasoning is that a minivan will never be a sports car. And the Tesla X doors just remind us of that fact.

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12 Comments

  • Gregg Eshelman

    I've looked for but have yet to see a video showing the doors opening close to a wall or another vehicle.

    Then there's the upside down problem that all vehicles with this kind of door have. If the thing happens to get flipped upside down in a crash, you're stuck inside it.

    Does the Model X have an emergency open feature to let the doors open wide at the upper hinge point?

  • Fred in Minnesota

    I agree with Franz Von Holzhausen .  And let's not forget about the wheelchair user community.  These doors more than solve the problem of moving a wheelchair in/out and out of the automobile. 

    Fred in Minnesota

  • Huaidan01

    I don't know, why people have to mock these doors. It's not a new style, it's not "popular" and it might not be cheaper than some "regular" doors such as Nissan, Honda, BMW, VW and others offer. But these "wings" might come in handy when your parking space is very narrow and they are as different as the car itself. The only problem with this car is, that it's not affordable for most "common" people. But that has always been a problem with luxury cars.
    Why complaining about "copying" and redesigning some "wings" (invented by the German Hanns Trippels in 1952) and not about "copying" and improving the electric engine (invented by the German Andreas Flocken in 1888)?
    If the doors are the only problem for some people, then go to Toyota, buy a "Prius" and get in your car as all other drivers do.
    "Don't leave the herd."

  • Jmm40

    My objection to the doors is more from a marketing than a design perspective.  Tesla faces an uphill battle to sell electric vehicles to traditional gas-powered car drivers because of range anxiety (which in real life is generally a non-issue) and long charging times which are.  True, some buyers will like the novelty of the doors, but I suspect that adding such an unusual or unfamiliar design element will give far more potential buyers an excuse to walk away.

  • Delorean3

    You should hear it from somebody who actually has experience with gullwing doors (I own a DeLorean)...the comments about rain seeping in are unfounded.  I've owned my car for 10+ years and NEVER have I had an issue with leaks from the roof where the gullwing meets while I was driving in rain.  And Mr. Von Holzhausen just shows his ignorance when he speaks of falcon doors being able to "open in extremely tight
    spaces where a traditional gull-wing couldn’t"....um my DeLorean can open FULLY with only 12 inches of space. How much less space does he want the doors to open in?  And for those haters who don't believe me...Go search youtube for "DeLorean door myth."  This is a common theme at car shows and has plagued me for years.  I get tired of explaining it to people, YES YOU CAN OPEN THIS CAR IN TIGHT SPACES.

  • Aloisius

    Sadly the doors seem to make it impossible to use this as a sport utility vehicle. Can't put a surfboard/snowboard/skis/etc on that roof. It is pretty though.

  • Elijah

    Mark, you dilemma is that you are compartmentalizing a style.  To argue that the doors are laughable simply because they bring memories of prior vehicles is a pedestrian thought if I ever heard one.

    If they change to regular doors are you going to say it is a design fail because the Corsica had regular doors too?  Their choice has nothing to do with another company's choice.  They are attempting to create a practical design that caters to the masses in the most utilitarian way.  They aren't "stealing" a design from someone and committing a fashion crime.  If the design fails, it won't be because they dared to incorporate the doors of an antiquated sports car (or a few others for that matter).  It will be because the public will make the decision based on perception of value and utility.

    THINK before you write these lazy articles, PLEASE!

  • None

    I like the idea of added functionality. I don't think its fair to compare them to traditional gull wing b/c that was purely an aesthetic reason for the doors. Also if no one ever improves on designs then we cease to have progress.

  • chris

    The Tesla Model X is not a serious car. Gullwing doors are imminently impractical for an all-season daily driver. They are guaranteed to let snow come tumbling in on your head when you open them, let wind-driven rain moisten your interior, and so on. There's a reason the form factor is not dominant - it's great for entertainment but not for a vehicle you'd want to drive for purposes other than fun or showing off. By the way, its 300SL. Mercedes-Benz nomenclature had the numbers before the letters up until the mid-nineties. 

  • Zebulon

    Wait a minute. The front doors are conventional. If its snowing, the snow won't fall in on you if you are the driver or front seat passenger. If there is snow on the rear part, dust it off. 

  • guest

    Do you plan on remaining for an extended period of time in your Tesla X during a snowfall and then let said accumulation "come tumbling in on your head", or are you simply to lazy to clear off the roof before you enter? 

    Bravo Tesla, keep it up. Don't forget that what they are doing had ben denounced by auto manufacturers as always "....10 years down the road." Even after the EV-1's success, and many lessees pleading with GM to sell them to them, GM determined that there was "no market for the cars." Let Tesla add their design ideas to the mix.

  • mike

    So what happens when you take the kids to the store. You walk back out to the car after about 6 inches have fallen. Do you wipe all the snow off the roof before your two year old can get in the car seat? Have you tried to buckle in a two year old? I hate even getting in a normal car during a storm. Snow always ends up in the seat no matter how much I clear off the car. I like the Tesla x, just lose the gullwing doors or just have one side like that. It is not practical outside of San Diego.