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.


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.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.