Yesterday, Sandy Munro had some thoughts on the announcement last month that Tesla plans to build a massive new assembly plant near Monterrey, Mexico. He said the plan will be key to the company’s bid to provide the masses with a $25,000 car. “The Mexican plant is a genius move,” Munro, a manufacturing expert known for his vehicle teardowns, said in a YouTube video posted Tuesday. “We’ve done studies that found in some places — and some situations — Mexico is cheaper than China.”
An assembly plant in Mexico, where workers are typically paid less than in the US, makes the most sense for achieving a $25,000 Tesla, Munro said, something that’s long been a goal of Musk. “Why go to China if you can get to Mexico?” he said.
Many car companies have increased their manufacturing presence in Mexico in the last two decades in pursuit of lower labor costs, as well as benefits of free trade agreements in North America and lower shipping costs than overseas manufacturing operations. Some of the industry’s most profitable vehicles are built in Mexico, including some General Motors pickup trucks and heavy-duty Ram pickups.
Musk first teased the idea of a sub-$30,000 Tesla in 2020, saying the more affordable car would result from a 50% reduction in cost for battery and cell manufacturing. Theoretically, that car was supposed to come out this year and investors expected to see a preview of it during Investor Day on March 1. That didn’t happen, which led to a substantial drop in the price of Tesla shares.
Instead, Elon Musk trotted out a phalanx of company executives to talk about how the company plans to slash manufacturing costs. Part of that may also have been to show that there’s more to Tesla than Elon Musk and his proclivity for espousing ultra-conservative political statements on Twitter.
There were plenty of news items to celebrate, however. Tesla’s lead designer and vice president of vehicle engineering shared a series of cost-saving manufacturing changes the company has in store, including rethinking the assembly line in a way that allows more people and robots to work on a vehicle at the same time and reducing factory footprint by more than 40%. Overall, Tesla is targeting a 50% reduction in manufacturing costs.
Then there is the changeover to 48-volt systems, a move that will allow a myriad of knock-on benefits, including the use of thinner wires that weigh less than those needed for 12-volt systems. A reduction in the use of silicon carbide and the elimination of rare earth materials in the motors that power Tesla automobiles are both welcome news as well as the integration of large diecast chassis components that allow Tesla to slash the number of stampings needed to build its cars.
It’s all part of Musk’s and Tesla’s plan to sell more than 20 million cars by the end of the decade — a target that some have said is too lofty and hinges on major changes in battery tech. But Munro said he isn’t ready to bet against Musk just yet. “Every time someone opens their mouth and says ‘that can’t happen,’ Elon shows up” to prove them wrong, he said. “If you want to be a naysayer, go ahead. At the end of the day, you’re always going to lose, especially if you’re betting against Elon Musk.”
Buttigieg Says “Autopilot” Defies Common Sense
Hoo boy. If you want to get Tesla fans riled up, just suggest that the word “Autopilot” is dumb and/or misleading. Even though a court in Germany has said so (that decision was later overturned on appeal) and the state of California has forbidden the company from using it in marketing communications within the state, Musk fans staunchly support the use of the term with an almost religious zeal.
Tesla “made or disseminated statements that are untrue or misleading, and not based on facts, in advertising vehicles as equipped, or potentially equipped, with advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features,” the California DMV said in its complaints revealed last August and which were filed with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings, according to the Los Angeles Times. “These ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’ labels and descriptions represent that vehicles equipped with the ADAS features will operate as an autonomous vehicle, but vehicles equipped with those ADAS features could not at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles,” the DMV said.
This week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg weigh in on the debate, telling Bloomberg News, “I wouldn’t call something ‘Autopilot’ if the manual explicitly says that you have to have your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road all the time. That’s not saying anything about the NHTSA scope of investigation, I’m just saying at a common sense level. I think that’s a concern.”
In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that Tesla will recall over 360,000 vehicles because its “Full Self Driving” beta driver assistance feature “may allow the vehicle to act unsafe around intersections,” including traveling straight while in turn-only lanes. As Buttigieg mentioned, NHTSA and the NTSB have investigated crashes involving Tesla Autopilot for years, a slow pace that safety advocates have criticized. For its part, Tesla says that its Autopilot features require “active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,” claims that seem to be directly contrary to the plain meaning of the word “Autopilot.”
Last summer, Lina Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), said troubling data about the realities of Autopilot had surfaced and the FTC had the issue “on our radar” as to whether the name is deceptive to consumers. Additionally, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into whether the EV maker has made misleading statements about its driver assistance systems, according to Autoblog.
An old adage popular among politicians is, “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.” Whether Elon Musk is a genius or not, every time the word “Tesla” appears in print, it counts as free advertising for the company, which has become the largest manufacturer of electric vehicles in the world without spending money on the lavish advertising campaigns every other car company relies one.
Tesla says it will have built 20 million EVs by the end of this decade. Sandy Munro, for one, seems to think the company will reach or exceed that target with ease.
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