Remember the scene in Revenge of the Electric Car, where Tesla CEO Elon Musk is standing in a flock of Roadsters and pointing out the defects he is noticing? That's pretty much exactly what happens today, still, but the car in question is now the Model S and Musk is trying to get every employee, new or veteran, to see things the way he sees them: flawed.

As we learned recently, the busy Musk (who splits his time 50-50 between Tesla and his rocket-building company SpaceX. Yes, he works seven days a week) personally inspects each Model S before it heads out the door. He sees mistakes in "almost every car" but doesn't send them all back because "In the beginning, we have to be slightly imperfect because. ... Our aspiration is to get to cars that are accurate to the limit of reasonable physics."

What does that mean? Well, Musk said Tesla is going to order laser calibration devices, just like SpaceX uses to build rockets. "This is very extreme for the car business, but for the rocket business this is not," he said. "If you want to make the best car, that's what you have to do."

So, in case anyone was wondering if Musk was a perfectionist, it seems we have our answer.

We'll have more from our one-on-one discussion, including the full transcript, later this week.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 65 Comments
      • 2 Years Ago
      "In the beginning, we have to be slightly imperfect because. ... Our aspiration is to get to cars that are accurate to the limit of reasonable physics." Translation: "In order to deliver cars that set the global quality standard, we have to start off delivering cars that don't meet normal qualtiy standards. Anyway what we really, REALLY want to do is build cars as good as we can based on the production equipment we could afford at the time." And such automotive knowledge!!! An industry that has invested hundreds of millions on laser measurement equipment and uses it on models from A-segment to the highest luxury markets will be amazed to hear that what they are doing is normal, but what Tesla is doing is extreme. Extreme! Ballcap sideways ridin' a skateboard ollie off kickers and drinkin' a Red Bull freakin' EXTREEEEME!! Man that Eeelon is awesome. Extremely awesome. Absolutely comical. Hope you're all keeping scrapbooks of this mess. Sympathies to shareholders and depositors past VIN #1000 or so.
      Levine Levine
      • 2 Years Ago
      At old GM, gaps as big as 1/4" seams were within tolerance at one time. Apparently, some of Tesla's suppliers adopted the same standard as old GM, and Elon has to decide which components are 'good enough.' Another example of crappy American manufacturing. No wonder the Japanese, and Koreans auto makers are kicking the butts of Detroit's Big Two.
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Tesla makes their own body panels in-house. So don't blame the suppliers for panel variance. Why are we all talking about panel gaps here today? Did I miss some piece of information that was posted? There's no talk of panel gaps in the original article.
          Rotation
          • 1 Month Ago
          @Rotation
          Well, I'll say this, the nose doesn't fit properly flush on any Tesla Model S I've seen. But that's not really a panel gap thing.
          krona2k
          • 1 Month Ago
          @Rotation
          You would hope in this day and age panel gaps would not be an issue, maybe it is rocket science after all!
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Month Ago
          @Rotation
          There's been a lot of chatter in the Tesla forums complaining about body panel gaps. They've even taken it as far as to discuss which color paint they should order to minimize the noticability of the gaps. Ironically, they compare the Model S to the Audi A7, which also has rather large panel gaps. I don't doubt panel gap tolerances will improve - the Karma had similar panel alignment issues early on and they've since been sorted out. http://www.teslamotorsclub.com/showthread.php/8211-Panel-Lines-Gaps-on-White-amp-Silver-Model-S-s
        oktrader
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Levine Levine
        So, your point is "it's not Tesla's fault?" Nice try: supplier development and qualification is the system integrator's responsibility, and if parts ae the problem, then the fault lies with the purchaser.
      rjstanford
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sometimes, perspective helps. Coming from a very critical industry to a less critical one allows you to take the methodology and mindset you developed previously and "relax" it down to the 99% point - which is far easier than taking a sloppy methodology and mindset and trying to tighten it up.
        Vlad
        • 2 Years Ago
        @rjstanford
        Wish I could give this post +100
      Nick
      • 2 Years Ago
      For which part assemblies is this? Body panels? How much time does scanning for defects take up in the assembly process? How much cost does this translate into?
      RC
      • 1 Month Ago
      You need to read the Forbes article. They are using their Robots more intensely than anyone in the industry. That's they primary reason why they are able to operate in one of the most expensive zip codes in the US of A.
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Month Ago
      Here's an example in China: "Opened in August 2011 to international acclaim, the new Great Wall Motors’ (GWM) automotive plant in Tianjin, China, produces 250,000 vehicles per year. By 2015, when other phases of the factory are completed, GWM hopes to produce 800,000 units annually. asb0512AIA612.jpg The new welding line at Great Wall Motors’ state-of-the-art automotive plant in Tianjin, China, comprises 30 workstations and 27 robots. Photo courtesy ABB Robotics. Several vehicle models are made at the plant, which is considered the most technically advanced automotive factory in China." http://www.assemblymag.com/articles/90054-assembly-in-action--robots-provide-chinese-automaker-with-faster--stronger-welding Here's a few Korean Automakers that are matching what Tesla has done: " Tesla’s factory is tiny but represents a significant bet on flexible robots, one that could be a model for the industry. And others are already thinking bigger. Hyundai and Beijing Motors recently completed a mammoth factory outside Beijing that can produce a million vehicles a year using more robots and fewer people than the big factories of their competitors and with the same flexibility as Tesla’s, said Paul Chau, an American venture capitalist at WI Harper who toured the plant in June." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/business/new-wave-of-adept-robots-is-changing-global-industry.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all Toyota, OTOH, is dialing back on automation, and bringing back more human labor to their assembly lines. " So while other carmakers have automated where possible, Toyota has gone that way only for some jobs. "But for many jobs it believes that people are more adaptable, it can add or subtract people easily and move them around," says Liker. Toyota has robots that weld and robots that paint but its final welding and painting lines are manual. Also manual is most of its assembly. "The types of automation it is adding tends to be simple automated guided vehicles to deliver parts to the manual lines in sequence and in the form of kits of parts." Of course, Toyota had to sometimes learn it the hard way. It had the experience of "over-automating some operations, and discovered that automation created a fixed cost." Flexibility was the casualty. When the global recession hit, Toyota found there were limits to adjusting to the downturn, because of precisely this reason. The result: "Toyota's new global engine line has less technology than existing lines and its new assembly lines also have less technology. By reducing both overhead and technology, it is more flexible to adapt to changes in the environment." http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-02-06/news/31030974_1_toyota-first-automation-japanese-carmaker Tesla deserves credit for building a very SotA manufacturing facility. However, Tesla is only able to do what they have done *because* the other automakers have brought industrial robotics to its current level.
      Giza Plateau
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think they are buying those laser scanners to look for any remaining money
      Mike G
      • 2 Years Ago
      Still not surprising that they are having trouble ramping up. This is their first real mass production car. The Roadsters were produced in very small quantities and they bought the bodies for those....I would consider those closer to custom built cars. They obviously have lots of expertise building in very small quantities. They also are great at design, engineering battery charging systems and product testing. But they have never done a mass production. The rest of the auto industry has a 30-100 year head start on them. It will take more than two months to catch up. I'm surprised that they did not partner the mass production with Toyota or Daimler. They could ramp up quickly, have good quality control systems in place, and would not add much cost to the overall product. Apple outsources their ipods, iPhones, and iPads, Amazon outsources the kindle, Sony outsources the PlayStation 3, Nintendo outsources the Wii, and Microsoft outsources the Xbox 360 (all to Foxconn). I personally think the design is much more important than the build. What makes the S awesome is the look, the acceleration, the low center of gravity, the handling, the safety, and the range.
        oktrader
        • 1 Month Ago
        @Mike G
        "The rest of the auto industry has a 30-100 year head start on them. It will take more than two months to catch up." You are 100% correct. And yet there are dozens of comments by Musk and his team in which they assert how much smarter they will be in manufacturing this car than those in the established industry. So which is it? "I personally think the design is much more important than the build." I think many early buyers agree with you. But the large community of $75k+ luxury sport sedan buyers find build quality to be a truly BIG deal.
          Andy Post
          • 1 Month Ago
          @oktrader
          So many doubters of Tesla in the comments section, why?? Tesla is the best sedan out there for $50k. period. The ramp up of production is the easier problem to solve. They have nailed the design, engineering, test and launch. I see ppl here say "oh...toyota, gm have 30-100 years of head-start on Tesla" Bull-****! Toyota is not doing the same thing it did 30 years ago let alone 100 years. The fact of the matter is that for a capable company to ramp up and iron out ****** in their current production process is more of a 3-5 year process at max.
        PR
        • 1 Month Ago
        @Mike G
        Mike-- Tesla has hired top folks from a number of other car makers, including experienced NUMMI employees. They even hired an Apple executive to be in charge of market rollout. Mercedes' investment in Tesla came along with technical advisers, see the story earlier this week. Tesla has tons of expertise at their finger tips. As for Mercedes quality control being some nirvana that would instantly solve all problems with a wave of a wand, go read some Mercedes forums and then come back and comment again... Tesla began manufacturing their first Model S units AHEAD of schedule this year, so I personally have no problem with them taking their time during ramp-up. If you look at the numbers, Tesla has until November to finish their ramp-up and go into full production pace and still be able to approach their self-imposed 5000 unit target.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Month Ago
        @Mike G
        "I personally think the design is much more important than the build." Elon Musk disagrees. He thinks engineering should come first.
      oktrader
      • 2 Years Ago
      Is Musk actually inspecting every car in detail and pointing out to his team what he thinks needs to be changed? If so, then one of the following things is true: (1) The team is not building product in accordance with approved processes. Moreover, they apparently do not know how to correct these issues OR they are too lazy and will just let out-of-spec results pass on to final assembly. OR (2) Designs, processes, tooling, etc. can’t build cars to normal industry standard. The team is doing what the process steps require, operates tooling and gauging as prescribed, and runs cells as they are told. But out of spec results must be detected by Musk’s hand-over-hand inspection. Really, the global automotive industry graduated from this middle school of quality through inspection and/or craftsmanship 20 years ago. Add to this the theoretical “ramp-up to insure quality”, and it’s easy to predict a treacherous nadir of liquidity at Tesla. In the worst case it could create significant cost target misses as well as poor manufactured quality and a production rate that never reaches optimum. Fremont staffing Holiday and O/T as well as laying in a swing shift team (look at their job listings) in order to deliver perhaps 150 customer cars in 3 months proves the distress level (Special Sigs though the low 100’s being scheduled for late this month). There are 800 people staffing this factory (and apparently more needed) to execute a rate of no more than 5 cars/day. Cash collection from 150 S Model deliveries in Q3: $12M max. While paying overtime, supplier expedite fees, and holding far more inventory than needed. Oh, and the frickin’ laser beams, w/apologies to Dr. Evil. The rest of us dinosaurs were using systems from people like Nikon Metrology (and many others) years ago to inspect pilot production and insure fabrication and jig equipment was properly built and calibrated BEFORE actual production. IIRC, they could detect 50um over several meters. Apparently Musk is unaware equipment like this is used in exotic facilities like the decades-old Belividere IL Chrysler plant when it was tooled for Jeep Compass/Dodge Caliber. Although I wasn't around for the Dodge Dart, I understand there's been a complete laser and ultrasound metrology upgrade with much better automated data acquisition... but in MuskWorld they only do this with rockets. Yup.
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        @oktrader
        oktrader: They're just getting started! It takes time to get the production process dialed in. And I don't know how many auto plants you've worked in, but in the early stages of producing a car, it is normal to have to repair vehicles after they come off the line. Even for the big companies. Now sure, Tesla probably is having more trouble with it since they are a new company in a new plant. I agree with you about the lasers not being odd. Every car company has this stuff available at their disposal. It's not even a question of bringing it in, it's a question of how you put it to use. As you allude to, the key isn't really measuring how far off you are, but fixing your processes so you aren't off in the first place. That progression can definitely be assisted by the lasers, but it isn't really a product of the lasers. It's more a product of the company and its production managers.
        krona2k
        • 2 Years Ago
        @oktrader
        I guess as a short seller you're trying to deflate and dump? You do seem to be putting a fair amount of effort in to writing long posts on this forum, as a professional trader you must be doing it for a reason that you hope will be profitable to you.
          PR
          • 1 Month Ago
          @krona2k
          oktrader, I think the resistance you are facing is that when you start editorializing with derogatory comments like "lazy" and "middle school", people begin to wonder if that is honest criticism. Or if it is your personal interest/frustration/stress/whatever that is coming out, considering your roughly $2 million dollar bet against TSLA shares rising. This is a huge elephant in the room, and is a legitimate issue. It is perfectly normal for others to wonder if your negative editorial comments are tainted by your desire to profit on poor TSLA stock performance. It is nothing personal, it is just the results of your business. Personally attacking folks as tinfoil hatters for pointing at the elephant you've drug into the room, certainly doesn't help your case that there is no connection (zero, nadda, zilch) between your editorializing against Tesla and your ~$2 million dollar bet against TSLA shares. ________________________ Your posts that stick firmly to the facts without getting into derogatory editorial comments seem to get the most positive responses. You might keep that in mind if being called out on your bet against TSLA is something you would like to avoid. You've put yourself in a unique situation on this board, and you can't attack others for you having put yourself in that situation. Just some friendly advice from someone who has been posting here for years.
          krona2k
          • 2 Years Ago
          @krona2k
          OK, well have to take your word, but you can see how it looks?
          oktrader
          • 1 Month Ago
          @krona2k
          Thanks for the truce note, krona. I appreciate what some may see as appearance. Today is a pure sit in front of the screen day -- our actual trading guru is pounding the numbers and I'm answering questions. No watt-hours (or liters) expended in the trusty Volt except to get to the office. Lots of comment (I get to play at work sometimes). But honestly: when the authors of these articles post entirely non-critical views of such a frothy issue as TSLA, you have to see how THAT looks, too, yes?
          oktrader
          • 2 Years Ago
          @krona2k
          Clarification after a rushed entry: we don't account for !% of daily volume. The the typical share count of our interest is equivalent to a bit more than that number. We are definitely little guys.
          oktrader
          • 2 Years Ago
          @krona2k
          krona2k: You've been reading too many conspiracy sites. Nothing we say here will move this stock one iota. I'd have better luck driving TSLA to our covering range by poking pins in Musk and Blankenship voodoo dolls. Our fund probably has a larger interest in TSLA (by share count) than the entire collection of posters here combined, and yet that totals only about 1% of average daily volume. Likewise, as much as we all enjoy ABG, it draws very few eyeballs, and of those the percentage that actively trade significant market volume is not meaningful. I do a great deal of research in electrification "story stocks". TSLA is the most fascinating, and our last remaining major opportunity. I post here in the same way a Red Sox fanatic posts on the Sports sites. Save the tinfoil hat for Alex Jones' site.
        Baldur Norddahl
        • 2 Years Ago
        @oktrader
        It is more likely that Musk wants to have first hand knowledge of what is working and what is not. He could be reading about it in a report done by some of his workers but he likes to see it for himself.
      Rotation
      • 2 Years Ago
      Let's just say some of the mistakes and imperfections that were present in early Tesla Roadsters were a lot larger than a statement about the limit of reasonable physics would imply. I still support sending out imperfect cars in Tesla's situation. The financial stakes were high and Tesla was also carrying a lot of the weight of the issue of whether EVs were even viable on their shoulders. They did go back and make things right for the early owners too. The laser thing sounds useful, but you have to be realistic here. Every device made of more than one part suffers from a problem of tolerance stack-up. You can buy all the lasers you want but nothing short of substantial amounts of hand-fettling is going to fix it.
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        I left out a bit on the end there. I meant to have a sentence about the real key is to designing around the issue minimizing the amount of tolerance stack-up and limiting the deleterious effects it has on your product. Because eliminating it isn't really realistic, it would take enormous amounts of hand-fettling. And then it'll still come back the first time your components change size due to temperature.
          oktrader
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          Rotation: Actually, you can design out quite a bit. Shimming is a fading art in autobody manufacture. Here is an example of what Audi does to deal with environmental tolerances: "A master jig maintained at a constant 22ºC (72ºF) is an essential part of Audi’s dimensional fine-tuning for very accurate sheet-metal panel fit and exterior trim parts such as taillight alignment between tailgate and rear fenders. Master jigs are used for both exterior and interior calibration 9 months before Job One" To anyone else tuned in to this conversation... modern high-end auto manufacturers have established very detailed dimensional controls, tools and processes MONTHS before they begin production build.
          Rotation
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Rotation
          Yes, they have established very detailed dimensional controls. This still doesn't fix remove variance. What you describe is part of designing to avoid the deleterious effects it has on your product. Dimensional controls also includes tolerances. These tolerances are not 0. Shimming would come under hand-fettling. As you and I both say, it really isn't done.
      porosavuporo
      • 2 Years Ago
      There is very little science going on in here, and also in rocketry. Its all engineering, a different and slightly underappreciated discipline.
        SVX pearlie
        • 2 Years Ago
        @porosavuporo
        These days, "rocket science" is primarily engineering. It's not like we're doing basic science any more, but rather optimizing functionality and improving reliability / cost. That's core engineering work.
          Rotation
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie
          Rocket science has always been mostly engineering. It's easy to plot a course from the surface of the earth to land on the moon. It's just math that was worked out in the 17th century. The tough part is actually making a vehicle that can get two people to the surface of the moon back safely. And that involves a lot of engineering.
        JR
        • 2 Years Ago
        @porosavuporo
        Sheldon Cooper: "Engineering—where the semi-skilled laborers execute the vision of those who think and dream. Hello Oompa-Loompas of science." Don't get me wrong - I'm an engineer, for an OEM at that - I just thought this was funny.
          Andy Post
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JR
          sheldon cooper of 'big bang theory' fame? he is a pompous ass and doesn't know what he is talking about! ;-)
      RC
      • 2 Years Ago
      Tesla is at the forefront of a shift in the way we build things. Forbes detailed this new trend in one of its articles and used Tesla as an example of what they expect to become the norm. The days of humans in the assembly line are numbered.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Month Ago
        @RC
        Aside from the obvious fundamental difference between building an EV compared to traditional ICE autos, Tesla isn't really doing anything all that different from the current SotA in a modern automotive factory.
    • Load More Comments