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Tesla's Falcon-Wing Doors: Moms Will Love Them

By Daniel Sparks - Jan 31, 2016 at 10:10AM

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Those doors are more than a gimmick. Elon Musk argues they are downright superior to other designs. And parents will love them, he says.

With deliveries of Tesla Motors' (TSLA 0.08%) Model X SUV finally making their way to customers, attention will undoubtedly gravitate to the one flashy feature no one can overlook: falconwing doors. As a totally new design, the feature is a bold move for the electric-car maker. Will the eye-catching doors be a flop with consumers? Or will they solicit demand and -- eventually -- imitators?

Tesla Model X with falcon-wing doors open. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Not gull wing doors
Musk is always quick to emphasize that the falcon-wing doors on the Model X, which move upward before swinging outward, are not gull-wing doors.

"The falcon-wing doors are double-hinged," Musk said this week during an interview this week in Hong Kong with CNN anchor Kristie Lu Stout at the 2016 StartmeupHK Venture Forum. "That's why we call them 'falcon wing' instead of 'gull wing.'"

Musk's care to differentiate them from gull-wing doors is justified. The falcon-wing doors were designed with far more than aesthetics in mind. Indeed, the design is centered on the user -- with aesthetics as a nice bonus.

Here's a closer look at the advantages of falcon-wing doors.

Designed for parents
Moms and dads with young children and babies will probably appreciate these doors' advantages the most.

Musk explained the falcon-wing door's advantage during the interview:

By having the falcon-wing door, we have a bigger opening that allows you to directly step to the third row quite conveniently -- even if there are baby seats in the second row. And then -- if you're a mother -- putting your child in the child seat in the second row is very easy because you have such a big opening and you can step into the car and put the child into the child seat instead of cantilevering your child -- sort of -- through a hole, over the baby seat.

Model X. Image source: Tesla Motors.

In other words, not only does the door's design create a larger opening from the side, which makes the second and third row more accessible, but it also provides space above, which means parents can simply step into the car without having to duck.

The interviewer, CNN's Kristie Lu Stout, even went as far as to thank Musk for "designing for moms."

"Parents will really enjoy the Model X," Musk said.

Musk also noted during the interview that after listening to feedback from early Model X customers, the company is going to roll out a partial-open function for the falcon-wing door purposed to redirect rain and serve as somewhat of an umbrella. This feature is already in the works and will be delivered to customers with a software update, he said.

Made for tight spaces
But a larger opening and easier access weren't enough for Tesla. The company wanted to go further. Musk wanted the doors to open in tighter spaces than conventional car doors.

"They can open in a tighter space than almost any door -- and certainly in a tighter space than a conventional door," Musk said during the Hong Kong interview. "If you can physically fit between your car and the Model X, then you'll be able to get in the Falcon Wing door."

Here's a look at the falcon-wing doors in action, with the final clip in the video pulled from Tesla's Model X launch event, in which Musk demonstrated how the doors open in tight spaces.

Each time the doors open, they use capacitive, inductive, and ultrasonic sensors to assess surroundings -- both above and to the side -- so occupants don't have to worry that the doors will hit cars, ceilings, or other objects.

While the doors' usefulness in tight spaces obviously wouldn't help the driver get in and out of the front seats, the design does, importantly, give young children more space to enter and exit the SUV. And it also gives parents more room to perform their car-seat gymnastics when buckling children into the second row.

Why not use a minivan door?
During his interview in Hong Kong, Musk discussed why minivan doors were inferior to falcon-wing doors.

A sliding minivan door "fundamentally constrains the aesthetics of the exterior of the car. And you have to have three support rails, which also negatively affects the aesthetics," he explained. "That's why all minivans pretty much all look the same. We wanted to have something that has that level of accessibility -- and actually has a greater level of accessibility -- of a minivan door, and also looks good."

It's easy to gloss over the falcon-wing doors as a gimmick. The feature demonstrates how far the company is willing to go to ensure that its vehicles are more compelling than comparably priced competition. It offers a window into management's ambition and the company's ability to follow through.

The doors will, of course, face plenty of scrutiny and criticism -- just as any new technology does. They will have problems. And there may be some trade-offs compared with regular doors. But a review of there strengths suggests they will also likely continue to drive significant demand for the vehicle (Tesla already has over 25,000 deposit-backed orders for Model X).

Don't be surprised if competitors eventually cave in and try to imitate Tesla's falcon-wing doors. But also don't be surprised if it takes competitors years to get around to attempting it.

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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