Arrivederci, Doug Field
Doug Field was the Senior Vice President for Engineering at Tesla until June 27. Now he is out of a job, reports the Wall Street Journal. Field, who was nominally in charge of Model 3 production, may be best known to Tesla aficionados for his pugnacious note to workers at the end of March as the company struggled to meet the 2,500 Model 3 a week production target — a target many investors thought was impossible. “I find that personally insulting, and you should too,” Field wrote in the March 23 email. “Let’s make them regret ever betting against us. You will prove a bunch of haters wrong.”
With those words of encouragement, Tesla struggled valiantly to reach the goal, but fell short. Shortly thereafter, The Information reported that Elon Musk was taking control of Model 3 production. In a statement, the company said, “Elon is focusing his time there while Doug focuses on vehicle engineering.” Then Musk sent a tweet that seemed to support Field, calling him “one of the world’s most talented engineering execs.” Later he added this note: “About a year ago, I asked Doug to manage both engineering & production. He agreed that Tesla needed eng & prod better aligned, so we don’t design cars that are crazy hard to build. Right now, tho, better to divide & conquer, so I’m back to sleeping at factory. Car biz is hell …”
Then a few weeks later, Field took a leave of absence to “recharge and spend time with his family,” according to a company statement. In a recent filing with the SEC, however, Tesla said, “Tesla would like to thank Doug for his hard work over the years and for everything he has done for Tesla.” In other words, “Sayonara, Doug. Thanks for the memories and don’t let the door hit you on your way to the executive parking lot.”
Musk leaves no room for doubt about who is in charge. After The Verge and several other media sites described Doug Field as Tesla’s chief engineer, the company fired off a clarification. “Update July 2nd 6:53pm ET,” The Verge added at the end of its story. “A spokesperson for Tesla reached out to note that Doug Field was Tesla’s chief of vehicle engineering. Elon Musk is the company’s chief engineer, followed by Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel. Field was the company’s third-most senior engineer.”
“Burst Week” Is Over. Now What?
As soon as the end-of-quarter frenzy of activity was over, Tesla announced it was pausing Model 3 production for a few days this week. The break “won’t impact production targets and will allow the company to do basic upkeep and maintenance work,” the sources told Bloomberg. Production is scheduled to resume on July 5. Its workers will have a chance to enjoy the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer before putting their shoulders to the wheel again to meet the new production goal of 6,000 Model 3s a week by the end of the month.
Bloomberg reports the company is relying on its primary Model 3 production line — the one that is actually inside the factory — to churn out 5,000 cars a week this month. Another 1,000 cars a week are expected to come from the new production line inside a tent in the parking lot. The Verge says the permit for the tent is for 6 months only.
Many industry observers are skeptical about the company’s habit of using “burst weeks” — periods of unusually intense activity — to meet its self-imposed deadlines. “One week of achieving a production milestone is just the beginning,” Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader, tells The Verge. “Tesla’s task going forward will be to routinely and consistently meet production targets and quality.”
Bloomberg adds that, statistically, Tesla routinely pulls out all the stops at the end of a quarter but then falls back to a far slower pace the rest of the time. “For Tesla to achieve the profits and positive cash flow it claims are imminent, it needs to produce vehicles at consistent volume and quality and with high productivity. Going all-out for one week looks more like a gimmick for the consumption of the stock market than a measured path to self-funding. The tent may have gotten Tesla over the arbitrary line of 5,000 for one week, but at what cost? We’ll find out in a month when results are released.” [Editor’s note: Clearly, this is the next step for Tesla. As has been the case for years, Tesla has to climb its way up to higher production volumes, then has to stabilize those higher volumes. Every step of the way, from a few hundred a year to 7,000 in one week, certain people have loudly claimed Tesla couldn’t do it. The whole repetitive process gets a bit old. Tesla has indeed achieved its target of 5,000 Model 3s in one week. When it gets to 10,000 a week after another “burst week,” analysts and trolls will again be highlighting the fact that Tesla needs to stabilize that production rate. It’ll be the same essential news cycle for the 2oth time or so. However, presumably, there will no longer be “do or die” claims. Right?]
The Verge puts the final touch on today’s Tesla news. “One thing that remains unclear is whether Tesla passed a different kind of milestone at the end of this past quarter. The company has been approaching 200,000 cars sold in the US, and when it reaches that mark, an 18-month gradual phaseout of the $7,500 federal tax credit begins. Passing 200,000 cars sold in the US in the third quarter, as opposed to the second quarter, would mean the full tax credit would remain available to customers for an extra three months. When asked if Tesla surpassed that mark or not, a spokesperson for Tesla declined to comment.”