Tesla upgrades factory in anticipation of Model 3

Tesla emblem preview image
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends
In less than two weeks, Tesla will unveil its highly-anticipated Model 3 electric car. With an estimated 200-mile range and $35,000 base price, the Model 3 is expected to not only boost the appeal of electric cars among a wider audience, but also help Tesla reach its goal of selling 500,000 cars per year by 2020.

Of course, Tesla will need a place to build all of those cars, so the company has been upgrading its Fremont, California, factory. Wall Street investors recently got a tour of the factory, which currently builds the Model S and Model X, and believe it should be ready to produce a much larger number of electric cars, according to Bloomberg.

Today’s Tesla factory was originally New United Motor Manufacturing, Incorporated (NUMMI), a joint venture of General Motors and Toyota. It used to build mostly compact cars like the Geo Prizm and Pontiac Vibe, and was taken over by Tesla after the two larger companies stopped using it. The plant was able to build 500,000 cars per year at peak capacity under GM-Toyota ownership, but under Tesla it’s been set up to build much smaller car volumes.

Over the past year, however, Tesla has tried to increase capacity with new equipment, including an aluminum stamping press that has 10 to 20 times the output of its predecessor, according to a Credit Suisse analyst. The Model S and Model X both have aluminum bodies, but Tesla hasn’t said what the Model 3 will be made from. Tesla also added a new paint shop, and increased the speed of the assembly line.

The Tesla factory already features squads of red robots, many named after superheroes, but the company reportedly added even more to gear up for Model 3 production. The machines aren’t displacing humans, though: Tesla increased its workforce 29 percent last year to 13,058, according to company filings.

Battery packs for the Model 3 will be made at the huge “Gigafactory” under construction near Reno, Nevada. Billed as the largest factory of its kind in the world, the Gigafactory is crucial to achieving the economy of scale needed for the Model 3’s $35,000 base price. The car itself will be unveiled March 31, and will start production next year. Despite all of the advance work, it’s worth noting that Tesla has missed all of its vehicle-launch deadlines, so there’s a chance the Model 3 won’t arrive on time.

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