The production numbers of Tesla factories are funny things. Everybody thinks they know them better than Tesla and Elon Musk. The line in Berlin-Brandenburg will produce a car every 45 seconds. That is not the bullets from a machine gun speed of battery cells, but it’s really, really fast. Some clever people with a calculator pushed (60*60*24*365)/45=700,800 and concluded that Elon Musk was wrong with his 500,000/year capacity. The $300 billion guy mentioned that reaching 75% was a very big achievement and that it would take 2 years, not that they’d be at nearly 1.4 million cars from Berlin and Austin in 2022.
The new factories, Giga Berlin-Brandenburg (BB) and Giga Austin, are both designed to start with a Model Y production line that reaches 500,000 vehicles per year. Start of production is Q4 2021.
There are a number of Tesla fans and non-Tesla journalists that expect a few thousand deliveries this year. When start of production of Giga BB was expected to be late Q2/early Q3, I also expected 10,000 Model Y in Q4, but there was no start of production this summer. In Austin and Berlin, the lines are being made ready for the start of production. That moment will likely be later this quarter, before the end of this year. Probably.
I can not fault people thinking that start of production = start of deliveries. That is what Tesla did with the first Model 3s produced. The first batch of 30 Model 3 vehicles was sold at full price to hungry customers. But that was not what is normal in the industry. Tesla needed the money of those few sales badly. Not selling the first 3,000 cars coming off the line was not an option.
The consequence was a horrible reputation for Model 3 quality which Tesla is still shaking off. An untrained workforce using not yet fully calibrated machinery is never expected to produce high-quality products. If there are numerous flaws in the production process, the assembly line, or even in the design of the cars themselves, we get what is entered into history as Model 3 “production hell.” Nine months after the first deliveries, after nine months of solving problem after problem after mistake, Tesla started to ramp production to real volume production. That ramp after nine months of production hell took another few quarters.
The normal way to start production is to use the first few dozen internally to test to destruction. The next batches are for more testing by the QA department and process calibration. Then the vehicles go to the test authorities to get their type-approval, also known as homologation. Next are a few thousand vehicles added to the company fleet for employees, at least that is the way it is done in Europe. We are now at least three months after the start of production, if not half a year.
This is not a Tesla “lack of experience” problem. We have seen the same timelines with the start of VW ID.3 and Mercedes-Benz EQC production. This is normal in the car industry when starting production of a completely new product. Elon Musk has repeated a number of times that making a prototype is easy, while production is very hard. Getting to volume production is where most startups that reach production fail. Profitable high-volume production? It took Tesla three years with the Model 3. There was so much to learn and to improve.
Now back to the start of production in Austin and Berlin. Many will see competition between these two to be first out of the blocks and hitting mass production. That is nice for the observers. For the people working in the factories, other things are far more important. The race with the other gigafactory will not be what drives them to get their cars to waiting customers as fast as possible. They are concerned with thousands of details they must get right.
All the 10,000+ parts have to reach the right location at the right time. All the operations on the production lines have to be performed without breaking your back or getting other injuries. A few thousand new workers must learn the moves of their new job. Do it safely, do it well, do it fast. Those are the priorities, in that order. But fast is the easiest to measure and fun to show off, to brag about. It is up to the managers to install the discipline to do it safely first and do it well next before doing it fast. And those managers get judged by the speed of their crews themselves. But they can get fired when it is not safe and done well.
But what is the start of production? Is it when the line is powered on? Is it when all the workstations are trying to do their jobs? Is it when the stamping presses are die-cutting and bending sheet steel? Is it when the casting machines are producing intricate giant front and rear aluminum castings? Is it when the paint shop is filled with colored mist? Is it when all the assembly stations are figuring out how to perform their jobs? At some moment, this preparation for start of production will transition into production. It is probably when the first finished product that reaches the end of the line is made of locally stamped steel, is made of locally cast aluminum, and was painted in the paint shop. Lots of parts will still come from other locations, like Fremont and Giga Nevada, but the process of creating a working car from start to finish will be repeatable.
This starts with a few vehicles per day, and not on all days. If all goes well, production can reach 50 or even >100 Model Y per day by the end of the first quarter. This is the time they will be ready to start deliveries. For Giga Austin, the ceremony where the first customers receive their cars could be at the end of Q1 2022.
Giga BB is experiencing a final round of delays. Two environmental watchdog groups, which apparently do nor care about the climate, are determined to use every legal instrument they can think of to delay Tesla from starting production. Why they do this, nobody knows. It is not protecting the biosphere, and it is very bad for the greenhouse sphere.
The state of Brandenburg is trying to close every loophole by being painstakingly precise in following all the procedures for consultations and discussions about all the ridiculous objections that are raised. They know these groups are not doing Brandenburg a service with their drawn out protests against green progress.
For Giga BB, my prediction is start of production in the second half of Q4 and start of deliveries on April Fool’s Day (Muskian humor).