Tesla's Model X Problem

| About: Tesla Motors (TSLA)

Summary

Tesla guidance predicts 36,000-40,000 Model Xs will be delivered in 2016.

Problems with the falcon wing doors are a constant source of delays.

Tesla should offer two Model X designs. One with falcon wings and one with normal doors.

Clip the wings on the Model X

Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) guidance recently predicted the company would ship between 80,000 and 90,000 automobiles in 2016. The prediction is based on a 40-60 split between the Model S and the Model X.

Unfortunately things have not been going well for the Model X. Its introduction in September 2015 was called a disaster. At that time Tesla only had six cars and they were sold or given (Elon got one) to loyal Tesla people, who really were beta testers.

Deliveries of the Model X have been very slow. Only 206 were shipped in 2015, although they built 507, apparently being held up either for parts or manufacturing problems. It turns out the major problems with delivery are due to the falcon wing doors. This problem still exists as Model X shipments hover only in the hundreds each week. Why the falcon wing doors?

Elon and the winged doors

Since its introduction in September 2015, the Tesla Model X has been admired and criticized. The major criticism generally has been the falcon wing doors.

Elon Musk justified the doors as perfect for soccer moms who want to put a child seat in the second row. Actually I suspect he wanted Tesla to join the rare group of wing door cars, such as the Bricklin SV1, the DeLorean and the Mercedes 300SL.

Bricklin SV1

DeLorean

Mercedes 300SL

Elon Musk has always been a fan of high performance sport cars. In 1999, at the age of 29 Musk spent $1 million for a used McLaren F1 sports car, which had sort of a winged door, over 600 horsepower, 0-60 in 3.4 seconds and weighed only 2500 lbs.

He crashed it and had no insurance on it. Fortunately he was already a billionaire.

Elons McLaren F1 (before)

Elon's McLaren F1 After

The falcon wing doors

The falcon wing doors on the Model X have been a problem since their inception. Musk admitted as much. Speaking candidly about the Model X's development, Musk said: "If we had known the true engineering costs and the amount of complexity associated with it I think we would have probably done fewer new things."

Musk also said: "I'm not sure anyone should have made this car." He made this comment at a press conference just hours before the first Model Xs were delivered to VIP customers.

"We probably should have just [modified the Model S]," he added. "There are so many more features and difficult to build parts on [the Model X] than it is necessary for us to sell the cars."

What are the problems?

The problems were with the design of the falcon wing doors. Tesla originally outsourced the door design to a German company, who proposed to use a hydraulic system to raise and lower the doors. The system evidently failed and Tesla had to find another source, one that would use electric motors.

It was felt the doors must be capable of opening in a tight parking space, so they were designed with two hinges (and motors) instead of one, allowing this operation. When you open the doors it normally takes 5-6 seconds, in tight spaces it takes 14 or more seconds, not good for the impatient or rainy days.

A failure of these sensors could do serious damage to the door and the car it hits.

Another problem with the doors is that they will not open manually. If your battery goes dead you can't open the falcon doors.

When I see the potential problems for these doors, the one I think will be the worst is if the thin roof spine that supports the doors twists due to the weight of the doors or if possibly someone pulls down on the door. Originally the roof was aluminum, I assume that titanium or some other non-stretching material has replaced it.

Conclusion

The Model X is a very appealing car. It would be a shame to lose sales due to the falcon doors. What Tesla should do is redesign the doors on the X with standard handles and hinges. There is no reason they can't sell two models. The option for choice of doors makes sense. I would assume a number of people would want the falcon wing doors. I read that crowds form when you open them, still there are a lot of people who would rather spend less money and depend on old-fashioned doors.

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I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.