A pillarless design where the front and rear doors can operate independently of one another is the perfect suicide door design.
Ford has managed to reinvent the concept of a four-door car with rear suicide doors, creating a pillarless aperture that allows the front and rear doors to open independently of one another. Not only does this design look phenomenal when all doors are open, but it's remarkably practical, too, creating a larger aperture through which occupants can climb in and out.
CarBuzz discovered a patent filed with the the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in which Ford has managed to remove the B-pillar entirely, without the negative consequences incurred by the BMW i3 and Mazda RX-8 - i.e. not being able to open the rear doors independently of the front items. In the case of the i3, this meant having to unbuckle your seatbelt before opening for a rear occupant as the seatbelt connected to the rear door's integrated pillar.
Ford has previously played with rear coach doors on the Lincoln Continental Coach Door Edition, but this wasn't missing the B-pillar entirely.
The key to achieving this concept was the ability to let the front and rear doors latch into one another interchangeably.
In the new patent, this is achieved by locating the door latches in reinforced areas of the body shell or doors, where sturdy pins interlock with automated rotating cams at either the top or bottom (or both) of the vehicle's frame to form a rigid structure which acts like B-pillars. This is all familiar fare derived from the B-Max - a small European MPV with no B-pillars and rear sliding doors. The B-Max's system is enhanced here by automatic door operation.
It is possible for this new door design to not only employ automated locking cams, electrically move the doors between their various positions, and even determine the force needed to properly engage the opposing elastic door seals in various conditions.
To this end, the vehicle's control system will incorporate sensors to measure variables such as wind speed and direction, the angle at which the vehicle is parked, clearance between the vehicle and a sidewalk curb, and proximity sensors to determine if and how far the door would be allowed to open.
This control system likely takes its cues from another recent Ford door-opening patent and will reduce the risk of damage due to errant door-flinging or a lack of situational awareness.
The patent makes other provisions, however, as one can't simply remove the B-pillar from a vehicle entirely without consequence.
B-pillars are critical to any closed-roof vehicle's structural integrity and play a major role in both side impact and rollover protection. Due to these requirements, Ford's engineers didn't completely remove the B-pillars in this new design. Instead, they have been relocated into the doors themselves.
The edges of the front and rear doors where they meet have been reinforced with high-strength steel. When closed, they combine to create a new B-pillar, which will swing out of the way when opened to give the desired uninterrupted side opening.
The body shell also features reinforced box sections in its roof and under its doors to maintain body rigidity, but it's important to note that the relocated B-pillars are still structural members when the doors are closed.
Yet another element here that differs from traditional doors are the rubber seals. Sealing and weatherproofing are accomplished by a new seal design using elastomeric polymers, which move into various positions in operation to avoid seal wear while ensuring complete sealing when the doors are closed. They deflate when the door needs to be opened and then reinflate once the door is closed, filling a cavity to seal it completely.
As for where we might see this tech, the Continental is dead and gone, but Ford'a patent documentation appears to use a Lincoln Nautilus for display purposes. A Nautilus Coach Door Edition could be in the cards, or perhaps we could just see it on a future Lincoln EV. After all, the Lincoln Star Concept featured butterfly rear doors and no B-pillar, so this new design could be a means of putting concept car design into production car reality.
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