There is no dispute about the facts. Tesla will suspend production of its Model S and Model X vehicles at its factory in Fremont, California for 18 days beginning December 24. CNBC obtained a copy of an internal email sent to all Fremont employees by Elon Musk last week which reads as follows:
Subject: S/X Holiday Shutdown
The SX lines will be shut down for the holidays starting Dec. 24th and returning Jan. 11th.
We would like you to take the opportunity to refresh or spend time with your family, so Tesla will be giving you a full week pay for the week of Jan. 4th. There will also be limited paid opportunities for you to support other shops or volunteer for deliveries during some of this time.
Dec. 23rd – last day of work before shutdown
Dec. 24th-25th – Paid holidays*
Dec. 28th-30th – Unpaid time off (may use PTO**), support deliveries or other shops.
Dec. 31st-Jan. 1st – Paid Holiday*
Jan. 4th – 8th – Paid time off (40 hours)
Jan. 11th – return to work
If you would like to volunteer for deliveries for Dec. 26th — Dec. 31st, or support other shops from Dec. 28th – Dec. 30th, please use the survey below to let us know your preference. We will do our best to accommodate your requests, but preferences are not guaranteed and will be granted on a first come first serve basis.
The contents of the email are clear but its purpose is not. Some believe shutting down Model S and Model X production is an indication that demand for those cars is soft. For instance, Jon Fingas writes in Engadget, “A demand shortfall wouldn’t be a complete surprise. Production of more affordable EVs outstripped the luxury vehicles a long time ago. Tesla delivered just 15,200 Model S and X units in the third quarter of 2020 out of a total 139,300 cars. There’s also the question of pent-up interest for the souped-up ‘Plaid’ Model S — if you can afford to splurge on an upscale EV, you might be tempted to wait for the most powerful version.”
Our friends at Teslarati have a different take. Maria Merano writes, “While the shutdown of the Model S and Model X line this Q4 may be interpreted as a bearish sign of declining demand by Tesla critics, the production halt does give the company some time to update the vehicles’ manufacturing facilities. Tesla has kept silent about any upcoming improvements for the Model S and Model X, of course, but considering the company’s reputation and nature, it would not be surprising if it ends up using the 18-day shutdown to make sure that the two flagship vehicles will return better than ever.”
The truth of the matter is simply unknown. Over the past few months, Tesla has deactivated its press relations team. Today, whether you are the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian or even mighty CleanTechnica, if you want any information from Tesla you can go whistle. Your entreaties will be met with a haughty silence. The company simply can’t be bothered to speak with the press anymore.
Business As Usual?
For decades, the business of manufacturing automobiles has emphasized annual changes to the cars it sells. Everybody wants the newest new thing and those changes gave the marketing types plenty of opportunities to extol the virtues of their company’s latest products. It is common for Big Auto to shut down its assembly lines during the summer to get ready for next year’s models and to perform required maintenance on the machines that build the machines.
Tesla has always done the opposite of what the established companies do. It sells direct rather than through dealers. It ignores annual model changes in favor of constantly improving its cars. Except for the new nose on the Model S that arrived a few years ago, a 2012 Model S looks pretty much the same as a Model S manufactured today. There may be tens of thousands of little tweaks and upgrades inside today’s car but to the untrained eye it is impossible to tell the year of manufacture simply by looking at a Model S. The same holds true for the Model X which has had even fewer exterior changes since its introduction.
So it’s likely Tesla will use this break in production to reconfigure the S/X assembly line for updated models that will begin rolling of the line early next year. What changes there might be will remain a tightly guarded secret. We will find out when Elon is ready to tell us. But since shutting down a production line for a few weeks is common in the industry, it’s probably wise not to read too much into it.
Speculate all you want. We won’t know the answers until after January 11 when the first cars emerge into the sunlight in Fremont. If we are good and behave ourselves in the meantime, Tesla may even deign to tell us more about what went on inside the factory during the break and what the differences are between the first cars built in 2021 and the last cars built in 2020.
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