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Estimating Tesla Model 3 Wait Times

Originally published on the EV Annex blog.
By Roger Pressman

When future owners of Model 3 hear that I drive a Model S and a Model X and work within the Tesla aftermarket ecosystem, they inevitably ask the following question: “I signed up on the second day,” they ask, “when do you think I’ll realistically get my Model 3?” If I’m really busy when the question is asked, I just shrug my shoulders and smile — “Your guess is as good as mine,” I say. However, in reality, there are ways to make an educated guess that doesn’t rely solely on optimistic projections made by Elon or pessimistic dates suggested by Tesla haters. But to make an educated guess, you have to consider a few things.

Image: © Kyle Field for CleanTechnica

Tesla Time. The MIT Technology Review has heard the phrase repeatedly and contacted me to get my feedback on just what “Tesla Time” means. My response in the article has sparked a lot of questions, so I wanted to provide some additional context. Here’s what I was quoted on in the MIT Technology Review article…

 “Tesla Motors operates on Tesla time. Quite frequently, the infectious optimism that pervades the company causes its leadership to announce release dates for products that are … well … aggressive,” writes Roger S. Pressman, an admirer of the company, its cars, and of Musk, and whose Deerfield Beach, Florida-based supply company, EVannex, manufactures [aftermarket] accessories for Tesla vehicles. “Often, Tesla will miss those dates, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot.”

First, I’d like to clarify that I sincerely want Tesla to hit its forecasted dates for production of the Model 3. Nevertheless, I felt it was worthwhile to present a realistic framework for evaluating delivery timeframes. I do that in my book, Getting Ready for Model 3.

The Delivery Ramp. The delivery ramp for the Tesla Model 3 is a measure of how quickly Tesla Motors will increase production over a period of many months once Model 3 deliveries begin. The delivery ramp takes the shape of an S-curve illustrated in the following graphical representation.

Source: Roger Pressman, Getting Ready for Model 3, used with permission

During the first months of production, delivery growth will be slow, but once manufacturing and product kinks are worked out, it will accelerate rapidly. Then it will moderate but continue to grow as additional efficiencies are found to improve the production process. The real questions are: (1) how quickly will the acceleration represented the curve begin and (2) what are the actual values of cars delivered per month at each point along the ramp curve.

Industry Averages. I know, I know, Tesla is a special company, and it has already demonstrated that it can sometimes make naysayers look very foolish. But I think it’s helpful to examine the production capacity of other seasoned car manufacturers in the United States to get a better feel for a realistic delivery ramp and for Tesla’s ability to produce large numbers of cars in the early years of Model 3.

Source: Off Grid Quest

In Getting Ready for Model 3, I analyze the 15 “top-producing” car plants in the U.S. These plants have been in operation for years, have been debugged, have a continuing flow of improvements, automation, and the like. It is only reasonable to assume that as Tesla Motors brings its Model 3 production on-line, it will take time and refinement to achieve the levels of production evidenced by some of these top auto manufacturers.

Past Performance. I weight this in my overall analysis, but carefully. Past performance is not (necessarily) indicative of future efforts. It’s likely that Tesla has learned from prior complexity related to well-documented difficulties with the Tesla Model X and past glitches with the Model S. Furthermore, it’s reasonable to conclude that Tesla has taken great efforts to design the Model 3 for simplicity. That said, Trevor Page who runs the Tesla Model 3 Owners Club put his own valuable opinions forward about estimated delivery dates as well. It differs from my personal outlook in Getting Ready for Model 3 but it’s certainly worth watching (video below). [Editor’s note: I think it’s important to recognize that Model 3 production has used “design for manufacturing” as a key principle. That should help Tesla to avoid many of the manufacturing challenges it had with Model S and Model X.]

Youtube: Model3OwnersClub

The Estimation Perspective. Obviously, every estimate is guided by the degree of optimism (or pessimism) associated with the thing being estimated. For Model 3 delivery estimates, it’s only fair to consider a spectrum of estimates based on perspective, rather than an absolute number. Let’s consider three sets of operational conditions:

  • Optimistic—all preproduction/vehicle design work goes according to schedule, all factory requirements are implemented without any significant problems, the Tesla Gigafactory is producing batteries are a rate that is fully acceptable, all other supply chain issues are resolved to Tesla’s satisfaction.
  • Likely—minor problems occur in preproduction/vehicle design but are solved quickly, there are hiccups as the factory comes on-line but solutions and workarounds have been instantiated, the Gigafactory is humming along, and supply chain issues that do exist are resolved quickly
  • Pessimistic—lots of things go wrong and the subsequent delays are not resolved quickly, the production rate of batteries at the Gigafactory does not meet expectations, the supply chain is a continuing challenge.

I explain how and why I make my estimates and present data to support them in Getting Ready for Model 3. However, I readily admit that my analysis includes forward-looking, albeit reasonable, speculation on my part. That said, Tesla just might surprise us all and dramatically exceed my own estimates in early years. I certainly hope it does, and, I’m rooting for Tesla to do so.

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