Elon Musk made a robot mistake with Model 3 production

Chris Davies - Apr 13, 2018
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Elon Musk made a robot mistake with Model 3 production

Tesla counted too much on automation to boost Model 3 production, Elon Musk has admitted, with the automaker pulling out some of the tech the outspoken CEO had not long ago been praising. The automaker has been a voracious early-adopter of robotic production methods, with Musk suggesting before that the end result would be mechanized car construction so fast you’d need a strobe light to see them moving.

Turns out, that wasn’t quite the way things panned out. Indeed some of Tesla’s big schemes to make the Model 3 more rapidly turned out to hinder, rather than enhance, its efficiency. As a result, the car company actually pulled some of the equipment from the production line.

“We had this crazy, complex network of conveyor belts,” Musk told CBS News, “and it was not working, so we got rid of that whole thing.” It’s part of the chief executive and company founder’s new focus on getting more of the relatively affordable electric car out of the door, having already missed several targets. At this point, Tesla was initially meant to be making 5,000 of the Model 3 per week. In fact, it ended the last quarter with around 2,000 rolling off the line in the final week.

It’s not just the production facilities that turned out to be too complex, however. The car itself has also proved to be more tricky than Musk and the engineers initially envisaged. That’s despite an early commitment to making the Model 3 more straightforward than the vehicles that came before it.

“We got complacent about some of the things that we felt were our core technology,” Musk conceded. “We put too much new technology into the Model 3 all at once. This – this should have been staged.”

Back in mid-2017, Tesla said that it planned to significantly curtail the number of configurations that the Model 3 would be available in, having learned from the Model S and Model X that more options added up to a bigger production headache. “Early Model 3 builds will have fewer than 100 permutations due to standardized content and packaged options as compared to over 1,500 permutations for Model S,” the company said in its Q2 2017 financial summary. “This significantly reduces manufacturing complexity and streamlines the purchasing process for our customers.”

In fact, at the moment there are very few ways to configure a Model 3 order. Tesla is only producing the version of the car with the long-range battery at present, and only in rear-wheel drive form. Buyers are required to add the Premium interior package, but can choose the color and whether to fit the EV with the hardware required for Autopilot.

Musk took direct control over Model 3 production in April, with the CEO occasionally sleeping at the factory in order to be more hands-on with the process – and dealing with problems as they arise. According to the CEO, the dual-motor Model 3 should begin production in July.


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