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Tesla X and its Fabulous "Falcon" Doors

In automaking, "fit and finish" isn't just an add-on, it's half the battle

2 min read
Tesla X and its Fabulous "Falcon" Doors
Image: Tesla Motors

One of the most alluring features of Tesla's planned all-electric Model X is its rear "falcon-wing" doors: They open upwards and can thus let people in and out even in a very tight space. Besides that, it's cool, and coolness is Tesla Motors' middle name.

However, as Musk has admitted, coolness comes at a price. Not only would falcon-wing doors prevent owners from mounting a rack on the roof, they are proving devilishly hard to seal against wind and rain.

Why care about a roof rack? Because the Model X is touted as an SUV—one based on the same platform as the Model S but selling for about half the price—and SUVs are meant to port and carry. Still, Tesla can laugh off the lack of a rack because such an add-on not only spoils the line, it also digs into aerodynamic efficiency, which of course is critical in any electric car, given its range limitations.

But there's no laughing off the need to keep the cabin sealed and the rain out. It's all part of a more general carmaking problem known as fit and finish. Poor fit and finish helped to hold back the famous British sports cars of yesteryear, which may have looked every inch the James Bond marvel but weren't much good unless you could stow a Cockney mechanic in the back seat or in the "boot," to fix whatever broke or reattach whatever fell off every few score miles.

Seals are one of the primeval engineering gremlins, and they don't necessarily yield to high-tech solutions. After all, it was a seal, the O-ring, that felled the Space Shuttle Challenger. All this means that the solution will likely come only through normal engineering work, which involves trial and error, and therefore time, and therefore money. 

That's just one more reason why Tesla's latest financials show a bump up in R&D expenditure. It's nothing to worry about; R&D is what the company is all about.

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Chinese Joint Venture Will Begin Mass-Producing an Autonomous Electric Car

With the Robo-01, Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely aim for a fully self-driving car

4 min read
A black car sits against a white backdrop decorated with Chinese writing. The car’s doors are open, like a butterfly’s wings. Two charging stations are on the car’s left; two men stand on the right.

The Robo-01 autonomous electric car shows off its butterfly doors at a reveal to the media in Beijing, in June 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters/Alamy

In October, a startup called Jidu Automotive, backed by Chinese AI giant Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely, officially released an autonomous electric car, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition. In 2023, the car will go on sale.

At roughly US $55,000, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition is a limited edition, cobranded with China’s Lunar Exploration Project. It has two lidars, a 5-millimeter-wave radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and 12 high-definition cameras. It is the first vehicle to offer on-board, AI-assisted voice recognition, with voice response speeds within 700 milliseconds, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8295 chip.

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