This has not been an easy year for Tesla and its Model 3

Factory images flesh out the story of Tesla's Model 3 production issues

Production woes have delayed delivery of Tesla’s Model 3, its new entry-level vehicle aimed at bringing more consumers into the carmaker’s electric fold. Tens of thousands of customers have put down hefty deposits to reserve a Model 3 in the 2-plus years since order banks opened, and the vast majority have yet to take delivery.

The carmaker has faced several delays this year alone, including the loss of staff and trouble at the factory. Here’s what we know so far.

Slow (but steady) progress

While Tesla has long since missed its goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week by the end of 2017, it may be on track to achieve this rate by the end of the quarter.

In an email obtained by Electrek, CEO Elon Musk penned an update to Tesla employees, noting that all aspects of production are now functioning at over 3,500 units per week, and that he plans on staying “almost 24/7” at the firm’s Fremont, California factory in order to address the last few issues reportedly slowing down production.

Musk wrote, “It’s getting very exciting! All parts of the Model 3 production system are now above 500 and some are almost at 700 cars already. Congratulations to all on making so much progress!”

So how exactly is the company doing it? Apparently, it’s all thanks to a temporary production facility — a tent — that was built in two weeks, and contains a whole additional general assembly line. The requisite equipment was created “using scrap we had in the warehouse,” Musk noted, “And it’s way better than the other GA (general assembly) line that cost hundreds of millions!”

Reaching 700 cars per day would allow Tesla to come very close to its 5,000 per week goal, but Musk says that a few things must be fixed first. For example, he wrote that “paint shop output, GA3 [General Assembly line 3], bringing up the new [General Assembly line 4] GA4, End of Line and Module Zone 4 at Giga” all need “radical improvements.”

Seeing as the 5,000-unit-per-week target has been delayed by six months at this point, this could very well be Tesla’s last chance to prove itself. But of course, if it cuts corners in order to do so, this could all backfire.

Jumping ship?

In yet another blow to Tesla, one of the company’s senior engineers left to join Lyft’s self-driving team. Electrek reports that Sameer Qureshi had been with Tesla since 2014. More recently, he was “responsible for the entire Autopilot software stack across all of Tesla’s cars and platform.”

Qureshi is just one of the most recent employees to leave — Tesla’s lead engineer responsible for overseeing vehicle development recently decided to take a leave of absence. As per the Wall Street Journal, Doug Field, Tesla’s senior vice president of engineering, will be taking a break for “several weeks.” One individual called the departure a “six-week sabbatical,” and Tesla has not confirmed when Field will return.

“Doug is just taking some time off to recharge and spend time with his family,” a Tesla spokesman said in a statement. “He has not left Tesla.”

In addition to Field’s temporary departure, the Wall Street Journal reported that Matthew Schwall has left the company for Waymo. Prior to his departure, Schwall served as the director of field performance engineering.

The departures of Schwall, Field, and Qureshi came at a bad time for Tesla, which has been struggling to keep up with demand for its popular Model 3. Not only is this particular vehicle — which we called “the most exciting car on the road today” — crucial to the company’s revenue stream, but it will play a key role in convincing investors that Tesla is capable of appealing to the mass market.

Stop the presses

Tesla Motors halted the Model 3 production lines at its sprawling Fremont factory for the second time in 2018 back in April, per a BuzzFeed report. The gears ground to a halt shortly after Tesla reported first-quarter 2018 production volume for the Model 3, Model S, and Model X. At the end of March, Model 3s had just begun to roll off the line at a 2,000-plus weekly rate. Tesla affirmed in a quarterly statement it still held to its long-promised 5,000 cars-per-week production goal and declared it would hit the target by the end of the second quarter.

The recent line stoppage took place only a few days after CEO Elon Musk took the hit personally for “excessive automation” — Tesla’s too reliant on robots, in other words. “Humans are underrated,” Musk said, implying Tesla planned to increase human involvement in Model 3 production.

Telsa employees told BuzzFeed that, with no warning, they were given the choice of using vacation time or taking days off without pay during the production halt. Following a February Model 3 production line pause, which the company described as “common in production ramps like this,” according to Bloomberg, Model 3 line workers were asked to work longer hours, with extra pay, to make up for the lost time.

Tesla was in the news earlier this year fending off concerns about its AutoPilot partial vehicle autonomy technology. After the car manufacturer attributed blame for a March fatality in a Model X to human error, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) booted Tesla from the accident investigation. Tesla stated at the time it voluntarily gave up “party” status in the investigation “to correct misleading claims that had been made about Autopilot.”

Staying the course

On the bright side, the electric carmaker is looking for increasingly innovative solutions to speed up its processes. The latest idea is a hackathon, the goal of which will be to address two robot bottlenecks, as per a new Electrek report. In a tweet made last weekend, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk noted that the company is currently holding the hackathon to “fix the two worst robot production chokepoints.” He added that it “looks promising.”

Tesla remains bullish on the future of the Model 3. In a recent production update, the company wrote, “We are already seeing many benefits from heavily increasing automation as part of the Model 3 production process. Through the vast majority of Model 3 production, including in body welding, general assembly, inverter and drive unit production, our automation effort has been very successful. Based on every measurable metric, Model 3 is already the highest quality vehicle we have ever produced, and this is unquestionably due in large part to automation.”

Updated on June 21: Images emerge of the temporary production facility Tesla built to up production. 

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