When Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk first unveiled the all-electric Tesla Model X crossover SUV back in February 2012, he did so with the prediction that Tesla would be able to start official production of the full-size plug-in by early 2014.
Like the Model S before it however, Tesla delayed the Model X, pushing it back multiple times. The primary reason? The fully-automated second-row falcon-wing doors designed to fold as they hinge upwards to grant unprecedented access to second and third-row seats while retaining functionality in the tightest of spaces. Indeed, long before the Tesla Model X’s official launch, Musk conceded that some of the car’s delays were being caused by quality control issues related to the correct operation of the falcon wing door mechanism.
Historically, we — as many other news outlets — presumed the delay was being caused by in-house engineering challenges. But as The Wall Street Journal detailed yesterday evening, the true cause of the Tesla’s falcon wing headaches lay with an automotive parts supplier from Germany — a parts supplier which Tesla has just filed a federal lawsuit against.
The lawsuit, filed yesterday at the San Jose Office of the California Northern District Court, lists Tesla Motors, Inc. [NASDAQ:TSLA] as the plaintiff and both Hoerbiger Automotive Comfort Systems LLC and Hoerbiger America Holding, Inc. as the defendants. As The Wall Street Journal details, the lawsuit aims to stop Hoerbiger Automotive Comfort Systems LLC from demanding more payment from Tesla in reference to work carried out by the firm to design and develop the hydraulic lift mechanisms that was to give the falcon doors their unique operation and capabilities.
While Hoerbiger won the original contract from Tesla to carry out the work after beating several other competitors in the same sector, Tesla claims that the company misrepresented its ability to design and build the components. While Tesla did indeed receive prototype components from Hoerbiger, it claims each prototype either leaked oil, sagged, or produced excessive heat that caused the components to expand and seize up. While Tesla worked with Hoerbiger between February 2014 and May 2015 to try and resolve the problems, the German company just couldn’t come up with a reliable prototype which met Tesla’s exacting standards.
As a consequence, Tesla was forced to break its ties with the supplier and find another parts supplier at the last minute which could satisfy Tesla’s requirements. While the electric automaker says that it was within its right to do that and maintains it has broken no contracts, Hoerbiger says Tesla owes more than $3 million for the prototype parts and engineering it undertook for the falcon wing door project.
Tesla’s legal action is an attempt to prevent Hoerbiger from pursuing Tesla for the claimed sum.
“We were forced to file this lawsuit after Hoerbiger decided to ignore their contracts with us and instead demanded a large sum of money to which they are not entitled,” Tesla said in an official emailed statement to The Wall Street Journal. “We will vigorously prosecute this case.”
For its part in the dispute, Tesla said that the last-minute switch of suppliers has cost it millions of dollars in damages. With no reliable parts from Hoerbiger and Model X production already delayed multiple times, Tesla said it had no choice but to find a new parts supplier, which it had to pay a premium to in order to rush out a workable solution that met with Tesla’s engineering requirements.
Moreover, the new parts were substantially different in design that Tesla had to retool parts of its Fremont facility and the vehicle design itself to accommodate the new components. The old parts used hydraulics to raise and lower the door, but the replacements use electromechanical means to lift the door. While Tesla hasn’t specifically said as much, we’d guess the retooling that took place in Fremont last summer — when all production was halted for a week — could have been partly due to the last-minute change in design and supplier.
At the present time, Hoerbiger has yet to make a public statement concerning its disagreement with Tesla Motors. However, we’ll keep a close eye on this case and bring you any news as we have it.
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