Tesla Overhauls The Body Shop For Model Y In Push For Full Body Casting
In their latest podcast, the Third Row Tesla crew talked with Elon Musk and Sandy Munro about some of the innovations Tesla brought to bear in optimizing the design of the Tesla Model 3. The new episode was released to Third Row Tesla’s Patreon supporters this morning and will be released on all your favorite media channels shortly: Website | Twitter | YouTube | Stitcher | Spotify.
The Tesla Model 3’s body was criticized by Sandy Munro in his early teardowns for an excessive amount of glued parts, unnecessary complexity, and potential failure points. “As Sandy accurately pointed out, the rear of the Model 3 looks like a patchwork quilt,” Musk said. “It’s not great.” Tesla improved upon this in the Model Y and has plans to do far more than it is already doing with a new unibody casting that came into existence as a result of looking at Hot Wheels versions of the Tesla Model S. When looking at the small toy cars, Musk wondered if the same single casting concept could be applied to their full-scale vehicles.
Today, the Tesla Model Y utilizes castings to bring together many of the small stampings, extrusions, and whatnot that comprised the rear of the vehicle into a handful of larger cast parts. “The current version of the Model Y has basically two big high-pressure die-cast aluminum castings that are joined.” That is a clear improvement over the Tesla Model 3, but Tesla wants to do more. “Later this year, we will transition a single piece casting that also integrates the two rear crash rails,” Musk said. Upon hearing this, Sandy Munro simply said, “Whoa!”
Consolidating the design of the body of the vehicle from a ton of parts built with dozens of disparate processes cuts down the amount of inventory, spare parts, raw materials, assembly processes, potential failure points, and more. Said another way, it’s cheaper, faster, and more efficient. “The current castings, because you have to interface with so many things, you have to CNC machine the interfaces and join all these things,” Musk said. “It’s quite difficult.”
Consolidating all the various welding, gluing, bolting, and riveting tasks from the Tesla Model 3 body shop into a single casting also translates to a smaller manufacturing footprint. “The manufacturing cost is much less and we see a 30% reduction in the size of the body shop, which is huge,” Musk said. That’s massive. Having walked through the Tesla body shop for the Model 3 last year, I can say that while it was extremely impressive to see so much automation being leveraged to build the body of the vehicles, the prospect of eliminating all those individual processes for a single casting that requires minimal processing after the fact is exciting.
The new rear assembly in the Model Y represents a drastic improvement over the Model 3, and Tesla is already hard at work on the next generation. “The single piece casting has no CNC machining,” Musk said on the Third Row Podcast. “It doesn’t even have datums. That’s profound, really. It took us a lot of iterations to get there. It sounds obvious.”
To bring the vision of massive cast body components to reality, Tesla bought not one, but two of the world’s largest casting machines. “It’s the size of a small house,” Musk said. “We should be starting to set up the one from Italy next month.”
Musk said that it was likely the tech would make its way into the Model 3 as well. “It’s probably something we would do, but maybe in like 2 years.” He commented that the design of the Model 3 body was a pain in the ass, but it worked. “We have to deal with the pain in the asses that don’t work. Those are the higher priorities,” he said.
Tesla continues to hire and inspire some of the best engineering minds of our day, but capacity continues to be a limiting factor for them. “There’s a lot of fish to fry here,” Musk said. From the outside looking in, the culture of continuous innovation and improvement is inspiring, but the frayed edges are maddening just the same. It’s a delicate dance that’s churning out some of the most exciting innovations in software, hardware, electronics, computing, chemistry, and mechanical engineering the world has ever seen. What an exciting time to be alive! The future is now, peeps.
For more direct insights from Sandy Munro and his team at Munro & Associates, head over to https://munrolive.com/ to see their teardown of an early build of the Tesla Model Y.
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