Our Interview With Tesla President Jerome Guillen, Part Deux

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Yes, that’s me trolling Kyle as he takes his picture to sign in at Tesla’s Fremont offices.

If you missed it, the first half of our interview with Tesla President of Automotive Jerome Guillen is here: “Jerome — The Man, The Myth, The Tesla Super-Engineer — #CleanTechnica Interview.”

In the second half, we covered topics such as Model 3 design, manufacturing lessons from the Model 3, Tesla’s continuous vehicle upgrades and production improvements, the Tesla Semi, and much more. Read on for the details.

The second half of our interview began with us talking about Tesla’s consistent improvements in vehicle quality. The company never stops trying to make the quality of the cars better and better, as Jerome emphasized strongly a few times. Whenever this topic comes up, one of the first things that comes to my mind is an article I wrote last year that I was very surprised to see Elon Musk retweet. It was my first review of the Tesla Model 3 and I was so pleasantly surprised at the great quality of the car that I realized even I had let Tesla smear campaigns infiltrate my expectations. I titled my article, “Sorry, Elon — Tesla Model 3 Much Better Than I Expected (#CleanTechnica Review)” — which may or may not have clickbaited Elon into reading it. I was surprised by the quality of the Model 3 both because I had let some of those incessant Tesla smears creep in and because the Model 3 seemed far better than our 2015 Model S.

In response to my rambling, Jerome emphasized that it’s very important for Tesla to focus on what matters for the customers — big things and little things. Indeed, while Tesla nails performance, safety, and driving assistance tech, it also works in countless little pleasures for drivers and passengers. “I hope we can continue to make cars that, when you’re in them, give you little moments of delight — just like, when your handles open when you come close.” I laughed at that point because, even with so many other benefits of the Tesla Model S, I simply love that feature. It is a little thing, but it consistently brings a smile to my face and other people’s faces.

Jerome added a note about getting used to his partner’s Model X, which goes a step beyond the self-opening door handles and has a completely self-opening door for the driver. With a smile, he said, “Now you’re going to the other car waiting for the door to open. ‘What, I have to open my own door? What is this?'” Of course, it is a small thing in the grand scheme of life, but it’s a little feature that lightens up the brain, creates laughter, and makes us remember that even small matters of life can be enjoyable.

Naturally, Jerome also mentioned the acceleration, the silence, the user interface — inherent advantages of any Tesla that make the California car company’s vehicles that much more enjoyable to own than any other vehicles on the market.

Kyle asked Jerome to expound on what he finds really exciting at Tesla at the moment. It’s all about the Semi truck for Jerome. He loves this baby of his and puts any time he can into it. Overseeing Model 3, Model S, Model X, and Model Y matters as President of Automotive, it isn’t always easy to find as much time for the Semi as he’d like, but the vehicle is clearly holding Jerome’s passion and moving along steadily.

He highlighted that the Semi just makes sense — it’s got a very strong business case thanks to its various benefits compared to other semi trucks, including its total cost of ownership. Also, semi trucks account for a disproportionate portion of US and global vehicle emissions. They pollute much more than their smaller cousins — cars, crossovers, SUVs, and pickup trucks. Switching semi trucks to electricity will create a profound improvement in air quality. Doing so quickly will be critical to cutting CO2 emissions in the timeframe our society needs.

Jerome emphasized that Tesla is indeed a mission-driven company, with its mission being to accelerate the transition to sustainable transportation and energy. Corporate social responsibility isn’t an afterthought. It’s the reason Tesla was started. Jerome humbly noted that Tesla vehicles alone couldn’t make a big difference, something we all must realize. He reiterated what Elon Musk has said several times before, that the biggest potential Tesla holds is in its ability to push other companies to transition to electric transport and sustainable energy more quickly. That is at the core of Tesla’s mission and what it is trying to do every day. That is what the Tesla Semi does.

The problem, as Jerome laments, is that other automakers have been so slow!

I had to then mention a wonderful presentation I watched years ago from Tesla co-founder Marc Tarpenning. Marc emphasized that Big Auto’s sluggish nature was part of what the founders highlighted in order to sell the idea of Tesla to investors, but once he left Tesla and started advising large automakers, he found out it was much worse than they had told investors.

Jerome noted that the good news is the reaction seems to be quicker in the semi truck world than it was with cars. I’m sure truck manufacturers took note of what happened in the markets where the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 compete. Tesla was mature enough to show it wasn’t joking around.

Switching topics (not gears, since that’s not needed in a Tesla), Jerome then noted that their focus for the previous several months had been on increasing efficiency and implementing more discipline on costs. We also got a sense of that focus from our long tour through the Fremont factory, in which we spoke with various top engineers on the factory floor and heard them talk about Elon and Jerome regularly walking through the processes with them and looking for ways to improve production efficiency.

Jerome highlighted that in the previous 6 months he had seen much progress on all levels in that regard. (Note that this article took place in early March, but the focus on improving efficiency surely continues as Tesla strives to become consistently profitable and reach a new stage in its evolution.)

“I’ve seen great progress, on all levels of the organization — being much more careful with resources, maximizing output, and increasing quality all at the same time,” Jerome stated.

Jerome highlighted that the Gigafactory and new general assembly lines at the Fremont factory are extremely capital efficient.

He seemed particularly proud of the general assembly line built in mid-2018 to help get Tesla Model 3 production to 5,000 units per week. He noted that Elon gave him a two-week deadline to get the assembly line up and running and it took Jerome and his team 15 days — “so I failed,” he joked. (If you haven’t noticed by now, joking is a big part of Tesla culture.) Of course, that’s another example of the “crazy timeline → crazy success” format Tesla is known for. Many a timeline may be missed, but Tesla still gets to the destination much faster than others.

Speaking of that challenge and tremendous achievement, Jerome said that they used machines and materials that were unused and underutilized in order to build the new assembly line. They “had a big scavenger hunt.” Bringing it back to the beginning of this topic, he summarized, “That’s very capital efficient, too.” Capital efficiency, capital efficiency, capital efficiency. He also added that it was very exciting for the junior engineers and interns, who I presume normally have less creative projects and tasks. One engineer told an intern, “You’re so lucky. You’re leaving now what will be the best time of your career.”

This anecdote is another reminder of how the innovation, creativity, mission, and startup culture of Tesla attract an enthusiastic workforce from across the world.

We then slid into a chat about Tesla’s lessons from scaling up production of a truly mass-market, high-production vehicle. He noted that the Model 3 body was still super complex, “like origami,” something we’ve heard Elon Musk discuss more specifically in a recent interview with Ryan McCaffrey for his “Ride the Lighting” podcast. Kyle summarized Elon’s comments like this: “The current manufacturing process requires a mix of 70 aluminum and steel parts being pieced together into the rear frame for the Model 3. Tesla is swapping all of these parts out for a cast part from a small casting machine that will allow the company to initially go down to just 4 parts. Tesla is already looking at a larger casting machine that would allow it to consolidate this down to just one part.”

That captures the essence of Tesla quite well, something Jerome conveyed to us in various ways in our 45 minute interview. Tesla is never stagnant, is continuously pushing itself to take both little and big steps forward, is constantly innovating and evolving its processes and products.

Jerome added a note, with great emphasis, that the Tesla Grohmann equipment has created much better machines, dramatically improving the overall manufacturing efficiency of the Model 3. He also said they are building a giant machine using Tesla’s Grohmann sub-division, something he was clearly eager to share but couldn’t yet talk much about. Hmm. He basically just emphasized that it was a “giant, giant, giant machine” that duplicates everything, is modular, is simple on the modular level, and … is gigantic. We’ll all have to wait a bit longer for more information on that.

We ended the interview by asking about Jerome’s start at Tesla, what he expected back when he began at the young, small startup. He noted that Elon called him up and asked him to create “the best possible car,” which sounded a bit outlandish to Jerome at the time. Clearly, though, he took the challenge on. He said they asked, “What does best mean?” They considered what it meant to have the best acceleration, best ride, best handling, best storage, best user interface, best visibility, best safety, best, best, best, best, best. In the end, Jerome to this day thinks the Model S is the best car on the market. It’s certainly hard to argue with that! (Though, I do prefer the Model 3.)

Again, for a summary of the first part of our interview, see: “Jerome — The Man, The Myth, The Tesla Super-Engineer — #CleanTechnica Interview.”

Also see our exclusive videos and articles about the main Tesla Fremont factory and the Tesla seat factory:

If you are interested in buying a Tesla Model 3 (or Model S or Model X) and need a referral code to get 1,000 miles of free Supercharging, feel free to use ours: http://ts.la/tomasz7234

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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