Home / History/Torchtopian / Automakers Have Refused To Design A Full-Length Tailgate But I Think That’s A Mistake

Automakers Have Refused To Design A Full-Length Tailgate But I Think That’s A Mistake

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The number of ways to gain access to, and to shove stuff into, the rear end of a car is very likely finite. Over years and years of development, those options seem to have coalesced into a few primary methods: trunks (lift up and flip-down), hatchbacks, opening rear windows, single side-opening doors, double side-opening doors, and split tailgates, with some variants that combine these elements (like that Skoda Twindoor trunk/hatch thing or those ’70s American station wagons with the rear that could open sideways like a door or down like a tailgate). There’s been a lot of innovation here, but I was thinking about one solution that’s seemingly never been tried: the full-height tailgate. Let’s think about this!

I’m a huge fan of tailgate designs overall, where the lower half of a car’s rear door drops down to open, forming an additional load platform in the process. My Nissan Pao has such a setup, which I’ve used to good effect, carrying things longer than the normal cargo area and using the tailgate as a very handy seat/table when parked.

A lot of cars used this type of tailgate system, including the original Mini, which was a trunked setup instead of a hatchback (lacking even an opening rear window like on the Pao) and used its tailgate-style trunk lid as a way to extend the cargo-hauling ability of the car. The setup included a hinged license plate so you could legally drive with the lid open:

Very clever and useful! Also clever and useful was Ford’s 3-Way Magic Doorgate, which opened out like a door, and down like a tailgate (see image below on the right). GM had a version of this as well, but also had something that was arguably even cooler but less useful: a tailgate that would disappear into the body of the car (on the left):

Sure, that’s a cool party trick and it makes loading easier, but you lose the whole “extra load/sitting platform” aspect of a tailgate, which I think is key.

For all of these designs, there’s one constant: a tailgate is never more than half the height of the car. There has never been, as far as I can tell, a full-height tailgate design. Why not?

I had to do some quick sketches to think this through. Here’s what I’m thinking:

See where I’m going here? It’s a bottom-hinged tailgate, just like normal, but this one extends all the way to the roof. Now, I get that if you’re parallel parked dropping that thing down to drop in some shopping bags could be a pain, but there’s an easy solution for that:

That should solve that nicely; let the window open inside the tailgate to act as a little hatch, just like how it works on conventional half-height tailgates. But let’s get to what’s different now and open the whole damn thing:

 

Oh, wait before I open it all the way, let me point out a detail here: those support arms, set into ceiling-mounted tracks. I think we’ll want these because that tailgate will be heavy, and the whole point of it is to support even more weight.

I’m thinking the support arms would be jointed in places, and could be locked into any number of positions on their ceiling-mounted tracks, so you could hold that tailgate open at any angle you want.

So, here we are in its fully-open position. With those support arms and the length, loading could be tricky? I’m not really sure how tricky, but I do know the inside of the tailgate should be able to have things slid over it easily, which means the way that glass is set in is important. Maybe a flip-down window protector panel would be needed?

If done properly, this full-height tailgate could pretty significantly increase the cargo-hauling ability of a wagon or SUV, making it into a little pickup bed. Maybe there would be sockets in the tailgate that could allow for some lightweight, possibly canvas, “bedsides” to be installed on the dropped tailgate?

Notice I included a hinged license plate mount there, like on the old Mini.

There’s something appealing about this whole thing, I think, though it’s maybe a bit ungainly, too. But even with that in mind, there could be some real advantages, like it could be used as a good-sized table for working or eating or sitting or sleeping or whatever, with a pair of drop-down legs:

I feel like a big platform like that could be really useful. The legs could be integrated into the rear exterior of the tailgate and could be cool design elements, too, when they’re in the folded position.

Of course, if this would be done right, then that tailgate should be able to be used as an actual ramp, too:

 

There’d likely need to be some sort of protective/grippy cover you’d unroll to protect the inside of the tailgate, and in this context, you’d disconnect the support arms since the tailgate would rest on the ground. It’d be a lot like one of those enclosed car trailers in design, really.

Without interacting with a full-sized version of this physically, I’m honestly not sure if this is a good or terrible idea. It seems like it could be potentially useful and really expand and transform the utility of a wagon or SUV, but, then again, maybe there’s a reason this has never been tried, at least certainly never on any large consumer scale.

What do you think? Would this be handy? Open up possibilities for you that you don’t currently have? I feel like it’d be a much better way to, say, haul my canoe around while retaining the use of the back seat, or lay out food for a tailgate, or even camping.

Then again, I could just be an idiot. Wouldn’t be the first time.

 

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54 Responses

  1. Why not just have a bottom tailgate that extends? Like the opposite of the wagon with the disappearing tailgate, have a tailgate that either has an additional section inside it or in the car at the hinge point that can be pulled out to extend the tailgate-ness?

    Also I’m disappointed that most convertibles that could have had tail gates, instead had weird lift open trunks. PT Cruiser convertible, Beetle convertibles, bring on the age of car tailgates!

  2. I like where your head is at, but I don’t love the implementation. The support arms are ungainly, the glass is a liability, and the tailgate would sometimes get in the way because it sticks out so far. It’s solveable, though.

    What you want to do is have the tailgate be able to come down *and then slide back into the car*, Magic Door style. The user could slide it back as much or as little as they like—more for easy loading, less for sitting or cargo extension—but it would have to be at least like a foot or so minimum because that is what provides structural support, obviating the need for support arms. At the same time, that first foot of sliding operates a mechanism that causes a protective, structural panel to slide out and fill the window space—much better and more foolproof than a little cover that the user has to put on themselves and store somewhere when not in use.

    Boom, you’re welcome. That will be one million Bilbo Baggins Bucks.

  3. There are good reasons that has never been implemented – a window being that close to the ground and parallel with a load floor being one of them.

    I want more barn doors on wagons. And more wagons. What’s left in the NA market now? Just the Outback?

  4. Still think the Astro/Safari rear hatch with half doors is a more practical solution, I’m not saying you’re an idiot, but Florida Man is!
    Picturing a CR-V and an ATV, (or in an alternate world where Jason loads Nissan Pao into VW Tiguan) it doesn’t end well for anyone except the guys at the body shop.
    Sure in an ideal world, but really, …
    NO Jason, NO!

  5. Like some others said, a double-folded tailgate would achieve all you want with fewer drawbacks. This is basically your window protector except without a window to protect and with more functionality as a partition, tailgate to the “bed” and maybe even a cargo cover when the tailgate is closed. Here’s a sticky note I stole from my employer to draw the concept on.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/i12R7voy4NgsUy7f7

  6. Hey Torch…did you have a dream about the 1961 Chevy Corvair truck with a side ramp again? It’s rear-engined 6 cyl and air-cooled to boot.
    You crazy guy, you almost fooled me on this thinking it’s a modern take. All you air-cooled guys are the same.

  7. Just an opinion here, but the GMC Envoy XUV of the early 2000’s had the BEST cargo hold of any widely available passenger automobile ever. Anyone who thinks otherwise can fight me. The Avalanche comes in at a close second.

    GM really brought their A-game to the non-truck truck-bed scene that decade.

    1. The XUV was an ungainly solution to a problem few were having. There isn’t much you can haul in there that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to haul inside the vehicle. Sure, tall items like a refrigerator left upright, but most of the things that have ended up in the bed of my truck wouldn’t fit (or wouldn’t be a good idea) in an XUV.

      1. Oh, it was ugly for sure. Absolutely no question there.

        But what I appreciate about the bed situation was how versatile it was. You basically had a small, enclosed, washable truck bed – completely separate from the cabin. That in itself is huge for anyone who even occasionally has to haul around messy things like garbage or square bales or animals. Seriously, it’s great. And sure, those same things could be done with a pickup and a bed cap.

        BUT, buuuuutt it also had a mother-loving MIDGATE so you could fold the rear seats and glass out of the way to extend your cargo area into the cab whenever you didn’t have passengers in the rear seat.

        AND, aaaaaand it also had an actual tailgate that could both fold down or out to the side like the Ridgeline.

        Need plywood, drywall, lumber, pipe? No problem. Need to take the whole family to the beach? Go for it. Have to take your ill-behaved pups to the vet and don’t want to dirty your backseat? In a GMC Envoy XUV you can. You can do it all.

        Of course, some of the mechanisms have been known to break on occasion, so… “best” may not be the right word to describe the cargo hold, but I dare say that it was undeniably the most versatile cargo hold of all time. And for that, sir, I respectfully disagree with you. I think the Envoy XUV was a stroke of genius – even if its execution was less than perfect.

        1. I think this was a solution looking for a problem. Its a neat idea, but really, for the one or two times you are going to use it a year, you can hire a trailer for like $30… so it doesn’t make too much sense to spend all that R&D money on something like this. Also you can get a removable cargo barrier and a floor mat off ebay for pretty much any SUV/Wagon for less than $100 puppy issue solved.
          Stroke of genius yes – ill-concieved and unnecessary yes. – Probably should add that I think the GMC Envoy XUV is awesome and had they sold them in RHD I would probably have been tempted.

  8. While not a full length tailgate, Lexus/Toyota use a full size swing gate with an opening window on the GX460/ LC Prado, which has all the proper disadvantages in a parking lot of a full size tailgate. I can never used a pull through spot when I know I need access to the back.

  9. I had the same thought as Stacks, reaching over a full-size tailgate would be a real pain.

    You wouldn’t be able to open the full-size tailgate when you parallel park or park tail-in.

    Also, even with the support arms and legs, that rear window is going to get smashed. Someone’s going to misjudge the distance to a rock or a cart corral or a hard-headed toddler and wreck that glass.

  10. An interesting solution for smaller cars without much rear overhang, but with larger cars you couldn’t open this tailgate in your average sized home garage.

    Let’s take this overengineered solution and flip it over. Take your sliding tracks idea and use it like a single panel home garage door. Although it would eat up some interior space, have the tailgate slide up into the roof line of the vehicle. The roofline could have a hump in the back to accommodate the tailgate and not eat up so much space. Then add a slide out bed to extend the cargo area. A combo of both would lead to an overhang of bed for loading, and an overhang from the tailgate from the top of the vehicle. Have portions of the overhanging end of the tailgate flip down at either side and connect to the extended bed and you have a somewhat enclosed extended rear end.

    I’m picturing a vehicle with the profile similar to a Kia Soul or Honda Element that could extend about 24-30″ with an open end when extended. Take a Honda Element approach to the interior that could be hosed down and you have a perfect mix of compact utility with extra trucklike utility when needed.

  11. All I’m picturing is some goober loading the back of that so much that the front tires are barely on the ground, trying to turn and just understeering straight into a tree.

    Well, not all I’m picturing. I’m also picturing my old dog using the ramp function to slowly climb up into the vehicle so we could go for a R-I-D-E, so I guess that triumphs over the idiot overloading and understeering

  12. I think its occasionally being useful as a ramp or extension would be outweighed by how difficult it would make it to reach all the way into the cargo area. The window wouldn’t help with bulky or heavy loads. It would be handy once in a while, but annoying the rest of the time, and with added manufacturing cost. I’d guess that’s why it hasn’t been done.

  13. I think this would be not-great due to the risk of glass damage, shield notwithstanding. But you could achieve the same effect with a regular half-height tailgate that has a book-fold panel hinged at the top. So you’d flip that panel over when you needed it, and it would be out of the way when you didn’t. You could use all the same support struts. You’d need sliding or swinging rails to make the unfolded panel rigid.

  14. I think the reason this hasn’t been implemented is that it’s too complicated and cumbersome. Like you pointed out, it would need long support arms which get in the way, and you’d need some sort of window protector, and maybe support legs on the outside, and if you were to keep it open to carry long loads it might throw off the weight balance of the car and it would need to be reinforced further, and…it’s just too much. If this were to be made an option, it would have to be very expensive and no one would choose it.

    But I like the way you think!

    1. Agree. And the glass would be way too exposed to randomly hitting something even when just opening the thing. Maybe for something more like a van, without a window there…

  15. Automotive product planner here – cool concept but dont think it’ll work. Risk to damaging exterior when loading as ramp just from touching the ground. Risk to seals if over loaded and you bend the metal. + glass issue you mentioned. Then consider additional roof loads from adding those support rails. And then the whole cost issue. Feels like theres gotta be a better way to get some of that additional functionality w/o all the risks. A lot of innovation in pickup truck tailgates, the SUV / hatchback could use some love

  16. Since pretty much all SUV and crossover tailgates are one piece now instead of clamshell, seems like this could also be worked into a double latch design that allows conventional top hinges opening when a ramp isn’t required

  17. Yeah, good thought exercise but glass and chipped paint issues would make this a no go (as others have said), not to mention that as a ramp it would be pretty steep. Came here to say that the Ford tailgate mentioned is essentially what I have on my ’19 Ridgeline. It opens flat and like a door, the latter making it easy to slide a bike tailgate pad on with zero fuss. This is the best tailgate design I’ve ever had on any vehicle and would like to see it more. Oh, and with this being my first comment, thanks DT and JT for the Autopian… a perfect start to my morning routine.

  18. What if you took the split hatch and allowed the lower half to hinge (optionally) past the horizontal position down to a more ramp-like position. Then rather than worrying about protecting the glass in a full height tailgate you have a retractable extension that telescopes out from the tailgate to the ground or to provide additional support for long loss of used in the horizontal configuration.

    I think of my mid 80s grand wagoneer where in order to open tailgate you lowered the window glass into the tailgate and then reached inside for the handle to fold it down. Instead of glass, there’s a platform that retracts.

    Or just take the Ferrari approach and skip the rear window entirely. Who needs it!!

  19. The real problem here is the thin areas in the tailgate that will have to support all this weight are going to get warped at some point in time. The area is too thin or the tailgate is going to be too heavy. And BTW it would be better to use cables instead of support beams.

  20. One of the local interior design companies has Sprinters with the rear doors swapped for a ramp. Don’t think this is the same one, but they’ve included your table idea.

    https://checkoutourramps.com/accessories-options/#worktable

    Main issue on a smaller vehicle will be the ramp being far too short to be beneficial due to the steep angle.

    I had a Caprice wagon that would open full height. That was a bug though, not a feature. The sensor that was supposed to stop that from happening was out. It was not useful, even if the window would have supported weight.

    1. Every ramp is a worktable, really. My box truck has one of those long pull-out aluminum ramps, and we will often pull out just like six feet or so of it to provide a surface for assembling parts or making cuts on. It works quite well.

  21. How about more of a Uhaul ramp type solution. Slides out from under the rear storage floor so you can roll something up it into the storage area then just slide it under the floor the object is on.
    Closed it could slide under the rear cargo floor and rear seats ending at the back seat foot wells.
    Back seat passengers legs below the knee in a rear end collision be damned.

  22. I’m thing nope for all the reasons defined in this thread and that the Torch guy is off on a crazy tangent. Then I realize that this is the same guy who in the future who invents the SUV access stair and I am humbled.

  23. Back when they were selling the 3way magic door gate we went to Shakey’s Pizza on film night and watched a side-splitting out takes reel of a dealer and trying to move those “piece of shit” tailgates that Would Not Work!

    I think what you need is split doors with roll down windows and a slide out load platform the doors can lock open to that can also pivot down to a loading ramp.

  24. As said, i would be scare of the window being chipped. Maybe a 5th gen civic like system with a sliding in extension to have a ramp would be better. But having load over the window and it being exposed close to the road seems like a dangerous idea.

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