By on April 24, 2017

)Image: Tesla]

The fiery aftermath of a crash on a Chinese highway has Tesla on the defensive, rebuffing claims the rear “Falcon Wing” doors of the Model X pose a danger to passengers trying to escape.

Unlike past high-profile crashes, this story doesn’t concern the potential risks of the vehicle’s Autopilot system, as it seems the cause of the accident can be entirely attributed to driver error. The chauffeur-driven Model X reportedly hit cement barriers in Guangzhou, China, while travelling at 47 miles per hour, spinning the vehicle around and sparking a head-on impact from a Ford Focus.

The vehicle’s underfloor battery pack, damaged and exposed to oxygen, erupted in flames. However, it’s what happened next that prompted a $1 million lawsuit against Tesla.

According to the owner’s statement, discovered and posted by Electrek, Lee Tada and her boyfriend were sitting in the second row, and found the electrically actuated doors — apparently drained of even residual power — impossible to open after the impact. Both rear occupants escaped by scrambling over the front seats.

Tada suffered facial injuries in the crash, and claims the driver was left with internal injuries and a long-term hospital stay. Tesla’s Chinese sales division claims to be investigating the crash with the help of local authorities.

The lawsuit stems from the inability of the rear-seat passengers to escape the burning vehicle through the rear doors. Shortly after the Model X entered the market, electrical glitches led some owners to condemn the automaker for its eye-catching but wonky rear doors. Tesla rolled out a software update to smooth out the issue.

While there’s a manual way to open the rear doors — it involves removing the speaker cover in the lower door panel and moving a latch — it’s not likely that every buyer reads through that section of the owner’s manual. Certainly, passengers wouldn’t be aware of its existence.

Tesla China released a garbled statement relating to the lawsuit:

First of all, the lives of the owner and passengers were not threaten. We are working closely with the department concerned. The distribution of the debris at the site and the damage all indicate that this was a high-speed crash – in this case, not just electric cars, but any vehicle can catch on fire. In fact, another car involved in the accident (a fuel-powered vehicle) also caught on fire. Fuel tank fire incidents happen much more often than the electric car fires.

In addition, Tesla has consistently insisted on the disclosure and transparency of information, including other information about the incident, such as the owner is asking us for 8 million yuan, and we will not accept.

Robin Ren, Vice-President of Asia-Pacific at Tesla, told Electrek the owner decided to “blackmail” the company after the insurance company failed to cover the loss, attributing the crash to driver inexperience.

[Image: Tesla Motors]

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82 Comments on “After Fiery China Crash, Model X Rear Doors are Still Causing Problems for Tesla...”


  • avatar
    Verbal

    All your base are belong to us.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    It’s always funny until someone gets hurt.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Don’t know anything about Chinese tort law.
    I’m sure in the USA a good lawyer could squeeze out a nice settlement on this one.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    They wont get anything out of this. Tesla can do no wrong.
    Or not. I think the doors are nice but not something I would want.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “They wont get anything out of this.Tesla can do no wrong.’

      No.

      More likely this:

      They won’t get anything out of this because some Chinese company has already copied the design.

  • avatar
    low_compression

    “While there’s a manual way to open the rear doors — it involves removing the speaker cover in the lower door panel and moving a latch”

    Wait, what? There is a giant glow in the dark pull handle in the trunk of all cars, but the in-case-of-emergency handle for the rear doors in located inside the speaker housing?

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Wait a minute… a 47 mph crash caused the battery to catch fire? Under peoples’ asses?

    How fast was the Focus going, I wonder.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I thought big cars were safer?

    • 0 avatar
      NeilM

      OMP writes: “Wait a minute… a 47 mph crash caused the battery to catch fire? Under peoples’ asses?”

      47 mph into a concrete barrier is *really* severe. Compare this to the level of damage seen in crash test videos of production cars, usually conducted at 30 mph. There’s 2.45 times more kinetic energy in a 47mph crash than at 30 mph (proportional to the square of velocity).

      For simplicity let’s assume a head-on into the barrier and that the Tesla’s front end collapsed by 4 feet. That’s a mean deceleration just short of 15g. Whatever happens to the battery pack as a unit, I’d expect the individual cells inside it to break loose and rupture. Fire would not be improbable.

      Yet 15g is often survivable for a well restrained passenger. Formula race car drivers routinely survive crashes of over 40g, although they have more effective 6-point harnesses.

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        Comes the dawn!

        I concede that it’s not only understandable that the car turned into a wok; it could also been seen as a clever bit of localization.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        K.E. = 1/2 m v2, so yes, Velocity has a much greater effect on K.E. than mass.
        EMT’s are trained to view any crash with speeds greater than 20 mph with a high index of suspicion. I’ve encountered patient death at sub 30 mph speeds.

        @NeilM – racers also have head/neck immobilization/restraint devices. Dale Earnhardt died because he did not have one and basically tore the brain stem from his brain.

        • 0 avatar
          OldManPants

          “K.E. = 1/2 m v2”

          Lou! What kind of Super Language is that?!

          I’ve tried Google Translate and dropped it into umpty other languages and *it never changes*!

          Tried Chinese, German, Haitian Creole, Igbo, Kyrgyz… etc, etc.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            OldManPants – I could explain it but then the black helicopters would show up in the middle of the night.

          • 0 avatar
            Salzigtal

            Something’s missing: Kinetic Energy = 1/2 mass velocity squared ? Or: If I told you, I wouldn’t have to kill you. That’s Hollywood bullshit. I’d be contractually obligated to report myself for divulging classified material to uncleared personnel.

  • avatar
    Car Guy

    “Shortly after the Model X entered the market, electrical glitches led some owners to condemn the automaker for its eye-catching but wonky rear doors. Tesla rolled out a software update to smooth out the issue.”

    This is why I will not buy a vehicle from a “tech” company. Apparently beta testing safety related systems is nothing unusual for them………

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    “Fuel tank fire incidents happen much more often than the electric car fires.”

    Since there are exactly the same amount of electric cars and ICE cars on the road, that statement really holds water.

    How common is it for an ICE car to trap its rear passengers during such a fire with gimiky useless wing doors?

    I’d say the only car that comes to mind that had a similar issue was the Pinto who’s doors could jamb after a rear collision. Luckily we’ve come along way since 1970s. Well, I thought we had.

    “…(a fuel-powered vehicle) also caught on fire.”

    Did the rear doors of the Ford Focus refuse to open due to the fire?

    Some great deflecting by Tesla’s Chineese PR team.

    “Everybody does it! Nothing to see here. Move along.”

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      I can think of one more: I’ve read that the Bricklin’s gull wing door latch mechanism was prone to failure, resulting in occupants having to exit by climbing out through the rear hatch.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        Reminds me of the old joke about 6 drunk rednecks crashing a pickup into a river. The three in the cab got out fine. The one’s in the box drown since they couldn’t open the tailgate.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      If you see the photos the Focus didn’t burn nearly as intensely either: https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-ZPfF0IbLvmI/WP0y_F3DBqI/AAAAAAAApPk/gDKWOx0TSxwu-dxoRRmOLV-2uo2w0FTVQCLcB/s1600/Tesla-Model-X-Crash-China-.jpg

      It also looks like the Focus burned from the flames of the Tesla rather than igniting independently.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    That’s really, really, really, *really* stupid of Tesla. And, yeah, I think the gullwing doors were a poor idea. Not only did they cause the Model X to be delayed umpteen times, they can be responsible for trapping an occupant in a burning and powerless car.

    I know some GM cars, like the C6 and C7 Corvette and the CTS Coupe, have electronic door releases. Those cars’ doors are opened by buttons on the interior and exterior of the door, but they can be forced open by emergency grab handles on the outboard side of each seat. But for these Tesla gullwing doors, a person might not have the strength to lift them up manually even once they are forcibly released from their latches.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The C7 has an emergency release handle with a good old fashioned cable actuator on the floor of the car. It’s easy to see and operate, and it has bright red lettering on it. In fact, bypassing the electrically operated latches to get out or in the car was the first thing demonstrated by the dealer.

  • avatar
    MartyToo

    Tesla deserving million dollars lawsuit base in undelighting grammar wordness. We all will acceptable.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The “manual way” should be the default way, use conventional hatchback struts to make the door easier to open. Alternatively, just use conventional doors!

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I don’t know, but assume the doors are counterweighted somehow. Otherwise the lift mechanism would be massive. In fact, if they were smart, the default would be open, and the motors pull them closed.

      Just an astoundingly stupid thing to put on what is supposed to be a practical minivan. But, “oh cool!”.

  • avatar
    BigOldChryslers

    I figured we hadn’t heard the last of problems with the falcon-wing doors. It is an over-engineered solution to the problem of easy rear seat access in tight parking spaces. What the Model X really needed was sliding rear doors, but then it would’ve been a minivan.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      If the front doors aren’t a problem in tight spaces why would the rears be?

      • 0 avatar
        MartyToo

        I can squeeze myself out of a tight door with maybe 6 inches of opening. On a gull wing those 6 inches would be both blocked by the seats and accessible by climbing UNDER the door.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        Front doors are almost exclusively operated by people old enough to at least try not to slam them into nearby objects.

        Rear doors are often operated by kids, who will happily ding the heck out of you and not even notice.

        I actively avoid parking next to anything with swing doors that appears to be a family hauler for just this reason.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          Tesla never heard of sliding doors?

          • 0 avatar
            Ermel

            Not entirely sure a sliding door would still be operable after a Focus slammed into it at 47 mph. That said, I also think sliding doors would’ve been a better idea than gullwings. But what’s needed is a foolproof, powerless emergency opening procedure — I am frankly amazed that such is not mandated by law.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            “But what’s needed is a foolproof, powerless emergency opening procedure — I am frankly amazed that such is not mandated by law.”

            It’s in the car, Ermel, just not well marked.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I thought this is why cars came with “child locks”? You don’t let the little darlings open the doors until they are old enough to do it properly.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      And then it would have been less cool.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    From the Model X web site:

    “Model X is designed with safety as the first priority. The floor-mounted battery lowers the center of gravity so that the risk of rollover is about half that of any vehicle in its class. The battery structure strengthens Model X against side impact intrusions. And without a gasoline engine, the large front trunk acts as a giant impact-absorbing crumple zone. Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet conducted crash testing on Model X, Tesla’s own internally conducted crash testing indicates that Model X should be the first SUV to receive the highest safety rating in every category.”

    The Model S is 5-star rated for safety. Let’s assume the Model X ends up at 4 or 5 stars.

    Just how safe *should* a vehicle be after a double impact?

    Here’s an engineering problem:
    “The vehicle you’re designing will strike a barrier with double the required test energy, and then be struck again by another vehicle of unknown weight, shape, velocity, and vector. Power must be maintained at all times, and the passengers must egress gracefully after this event.”

    Seriously, this is what the armchair experts here are suggesting.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      Everything you quoted makes perfect sense to me. The bottom of the car is probably the best place to locate the battery. And this does sound like quite a severe wreck which the occupants were fortunately able to walk away from. However I can’t help but think that the door design is an unnecessary gimmick poorly implemented. But for the rear occupants being able to climb into the front seats they would likely have burned to death. The one thing that should be easy to figure out is how to get out of the car quickly.

      Incidentally how would you open the rear doors in case the X flips over?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “the door design is an unnecessary gimmick poorly implemented”

        No argument there.

        I believe the flipover case has been addressed in some fashion, but I can’t recall the answer. I don’t want them; they wouldn’t even open in my garage.

      • 0 avatar
        jonnyanalog

        On the newer gullwing Mercedes coupes there are small charges that destroy the hinges if the car were to flip causing the doors to fall off. I think Tesla should have something similar.

        As for retained power, I don’t think its unreasonable to have the vehicle maintain at least 1-2 minutes of reserve power in the event of a severe wreck to get the doors open or at least a VISIBLE means of mechanically releasing the doors. That’s not armchair QBing, its common sense.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      You shouldn’t need power to open the doors, full stop. On any car. The hidden behind a speaker grill emergency release is beyond moronic.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Tesla: every engineering oversight, assembly and material flaw can be cured by an H1B software engineer updating some previous flawed code in the factory programmed software. HUH? Is the Telsa marketing department really arrogant enough to think that their customer base will buy that all can be fixed in a software update?………..ah ya!

    And who lets the Chinese division write a press release in English. Hold on, it was written from the same H1B guy who fixed the software in Fremont.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “While there’s a manual way to open the rear doors — it involves removing the speaker cover in the lower door panel and moving a latch…”

    A stupid design. There should be a large glow-in-the-dark handle you can pull for emergency egress, like trunks have.
    .
    .

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    Tesla I think has wandered into trial lawyer minefield with the ‘move fast break stuff’ iterating on their production vehicles. Eventually they’re going to step on one.

  • avatar
    mcs

    So, when a two-door coupe is in a crash and you’re in the back, how do you open the rear doors to get out?

    Edit: Actually the problem would be the third row seat. I wonder if there’s a way to get out of the rear hatch? In the second row, you could get out between the two front seats.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    Is there a glow in the dark screwdriver in the glovebox to remove the speaker cover to access the emergency latch?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I suggest reading the Electrek article for yourself; the owner’s comments conflict with State responders to the scene as to the speeds involved in the crash and a couple other things. Additionally, there is clear evidence that the owner never read the owner’s manual or she would have known the emergency door release is behind the speaker cover in the door itself.

    I also question the “chauffeur” statement considering the supposed speed the car was traveling.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      And the Elektrek article has cool photos (Model X skeleton!):

      electrek.co/2017/04/23/tesla-model-x-fire-crash-falcon-wing-doors-stuck/#jp-carousel-42456

      and some interesting links at the bottom about other T***a’s that self-immolated.

      Also displays the safety superiority of a Focus.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Why does every Tesla story on TTAC result in an eruption of idiotic comments? It makes the site look like a place where bad mannered children hang out.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “eruption of idiotic comments”

      Can’t wait for a story about Tesla making full sized pickups as opposed to small ones with twitterpotus support ;)

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        Like, here’s this relatively young person whose accomplishments already and vastly exceed those of probably anyone who comments or writes here, and every article about his activities gets responses that remind me of a pack of chihuahuas yipping and snapping at someone’s ankles.

        It reminds me that the US has no shortage of morons who use the Internet to voice their hatred of experts and intellectuals and scientists. Who do they think invented computers and the Internet and Twitter and Facebook? Cows?

        Maybe this is how the US replicates the occasional purges of smart people that have set back some communist countries. I guess it should not seem remarkable that it happens on a website with the word “truth” in its name.

    • 0 avatar
      MartyToo

      Yes, you are correct. Hold your post up to a mirror and decipher…

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    And to comment on the story, I’m no fan of gull-wing doors. People unfortunately do get trapped in crashed and burning cars that have regular doors. It takes a while to sort out whether the car design was negligent.

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