As we discussed only a few days ago, Tesla is a frustrating company to follow. Huge advances in technology are followed by PR stunt silliness like the whole Model S yoke thing and the talk of the delayed Roadster having flight capability.
And then we have something much more encouraging like this: a very frank discussion between CEO Elon Musk and Sandy Munro, the automotive analyst who made headlines a few years ago for his teardown video of a Model 3. “These are flaws that we’d see on a Kia in the 90s,” was his brutal assessment of issues like inconsistent panel gaps and a hard to close boot lid.
Musk, to his credit, holds his hands up when it comes to Tesla‘s well-documented quality problems. “Production is hell,” he says, adding “Prototypes are easy and fun, [but] reaching volume production with reliable parts and [an] affordable price is excruciatingly difficult.”
Munro notes that on his travels in a Model 3 he later purchased, he came across a big variation of quality. The very early or much later Model 3s are the better ones, Musk explains, with the problems mostly arising during the production ramp-up period. As an example, when production was sped up, the way in which Tesla achieved this meant paint wasn’t given enough time to dry.
Another issue Munro has pointed out in the past is the needless complexity in the Model 3’s structure. In places, multiple panels are pieced together, where a single part would make for more efficient manufacture. “The organisational errors, they manifest themselves in the product,” Musk says. He adds:
“The engineers would ask ‘what’s the best material for this purpose, what’s the best material for that’, and they got 50 different answers. They were all true individually but they were not true collectively.
“When you’re trying to join all these dissimilar alloys….some need to be joined with rivets, some need to be joined with spot welds, some need to be joined with resin and spot welds, it looks like a bit of a Frankenstein situation when you look at it all together.”
Tesla has learned from these mistakes for the Model Y, which uses ‘megacastings’ for large sections of the car, avoiding the 3’s ‘Frankenstein’ approach. It’s too late for the 3 to adopt this manufacturer process, Musk says, but he does not that in terms of panel gaps and paint quality, the entry-level Tesla improved dramatically during 2020, especially towards the end of the year.
Other Tesla subjects are discussed, including short selling and Autopilot. Munroe largely praises the driver assistance technology, although blaming its limitations on inconsistent road markings feels like a bit of a cop-out.
Away from this video, the rollercoaster ride that is the Tesla story continues. The company has reluctantly agreed to recall 135,000 early Model S and Xs for screen issues, and it’s emerged the displays have a life expectancy of only five to six years.