Reuters is reporting that 90% of Tesla automobiles need repairs after they come off the assembly line, with up to 2,000 parked outside awaiting attention. That’s according to 9 former employees who worked at the Tesla assembly plant in Fremont, California. Sour grapes? Possibly. Notably, 2 of the 9 were part of a group of 400 workers fired recently by the company, so they may have an ax to grind against their former employer. Still, the reports are cause for concern.
Among other things, the claims, if true, suggest Tesla is pouring money into post-production remedies instead of building its cars correctly in the first place. “So much goes into rework after the car is done … that’s where their money is being spent,” says a former Tesla supervisor. Typical industry experience is that about 10% of cars require some remedial attention after they exit the assembly line. For premium auto manufactures like Mercedes Benz and BMW, that number is much lower.
Some in the industry are gloating that Tesla is very good at technology but not so good at volume production of a device as large and complex as an automobile. There is a sense that some are laughing up their sleeves as the upstart Tesla tries to do in a matter of months what they have been doing for nearly a century.
Tesla disputes the claims made by its former employees and denies there is a parking lot somewhere near the factory where cars are waiting for repairs. A spokesperson gave this statement to Reuters: “Our goal is to produce perfect cars for every customer,” Tesla said in a statement. “Therefore, we review every vehicle for even the smallest refinement. Most customers would never notice the work that is done post production, but we care about even a fraction of a millimeter body gap difference or a slight paint gloss texture. We then feed these improvements back to production in a pursuit of perfection.”
The former workers interviewed by Reuters spoke of pressure to keep the assembly line moving at all costs, even if needed parts like bumpers or windshields were not available. Anyone who has ever worked in manufacturing can tell similar tales. Stopping the line can have knock-on effects that disrupt the entire manufacturing process, causing massive delays and costing companies millions of dollars. Still, these people apparently blame Elon Musk for his well known insistence on “shortening the design process, skipping some pre-production testing, then making improvements on the fly,” according to Reuters.
Most readers will remember that many of the robots for the new Model 3 assembly line, which was scheduled to begin production in July of this year, were still stacked up at the factory waiting to be installed as late as March. The company even said the very first Model 3s produced would go to workers at the factory so they could conveniently return them to the place where they were built to correct any manufacturing defects.
Earlier this year, J.D. Power Associates published a report that found numerous quality issues with Tesla cars, including poor alignment of body parts, creaks, groans, and water leaks. Nevertheless, it also found Tesla owners were enthusiastic about their cars. That’s exactly what Consumer Reports found in its latest owner satisfaction survey. More Tesla owners say they would buy another Tesla than the owners of any other brand. That has been the story for several years.
One of the former workers who spoke with Reuters said common issues involved “doors not closing, material trim, missing parts, all kinds of stuff. Loose objects, water leaks, you name it. We’ve been building a Model S since 2012. How do we still have water leaks?” One of our regular readers reports that he cancelled his order for a Model 3 this week after his local service center gave up trying to correct defects in his Model S more than a year after the car was delivered.
No one expects Tesla to come right out and admit it is having a hard time building defect-free cars. The winds of customer loyalty are allowing the company to float above the grumblings of what many see as a few malcontents. But the company is learning a valuable lesson, one that hopefully will carry them forward into a rosy future. Manufacturing is hard.
Hat tip to Leif Hansen for bringing this story to my attention.