Due to multiple circumstances surrounding Tesla Model 3 production, the automaker changed a common testing procedure.
Almost all cars undergo a brake-and-roll test as part of the long list of procedures that must happen before the vehicle is deemed "ready." Basically, the test is done within factory walls and meant to simulate real-world driving. It assures that the correct parameters are in place for accelerating, braking, the ABS system, etc. Tesla doesn't seem to have the factory space or personnel to continue with such a test, so during the recent Model 3 production push, the test was changed.
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One may immediately jump to the conclusion that Tesla is cutting corners and rushing cars out. We're not here to say that this may or may not be true. However, we will report that - as many of you probably already know - Business Insider recently called Tesla out for avoiding this "critical test." The publication states that CEO Elon Musk was ordering engineers around and demanded that they discontinue this important brake test on all Model 3 sedans. The story reports:
The test was apparently shut down before 3 a.m. on June 26, according to a person familiar with the matter. It's unclear why this particular test was halted or for how long.
According to an industry expert, the brake-and-roll test is a critical part of the car manufacturing process, taking place during its final stages. The test ensures that the car's wheels are perfectly aligned and checks the brakes and their function by taking the vehicle's engine up to certain revolutions per minute and observing how they react on diagnostic machines.
According to CNET Roadshow, Business Insider may have gone a bit too far here. In fact, if every car can be driven on a track to gauge real-world performance, rather than put on a simulator inside the factory, this may even be an advantage. Sure, for most automakers, doing this test inside the factory just makes more sense and likely saves times and energy. But, this is not the case for Tesla.
Consider the fact that Tesla is building some of its cars in a "tent" due to the lack of room inside the factory. Also, the automaker is utilizing every extra employee it can in order to help build and prep these cars for delivery. Rather than trying to find additional factory space to run the traditional brake-and-roll test, Tesla not only relied on earlier tests that it explains are redundant, but also test drove every vehicle after it came off the assembly line. So, to say that the test was skipped or eliminated is not really the case. Instead, the test was adapted based on the situation.
Should people be concerned about this and other reported "corner-cutting" practices?
Of course, there's always a concern that rushing through the building process to meets goals and appease stockholders and consumers could lead to catastrophic results. Early reports pointed to the Model 3's subpar build quality, and that was during a time that production was at a snail's pace. However, it appears that over time Tesla has improved and refined the production process and addressed many of the early issues.
In regards to the braking test, the automaker told Roadshow that the current on-track testing procedures are "identical" with the previous brake-and-roll tests. If this is true, current Model 3s should be no less safe than those that were tested in the traditional way.
Keep in mind that after Consumer Reports found issue with the Model 3 stopping distance, Tesla initiated an over-the-air update, which has solved the problem. We can't guarantee that the Model 3 will not have any braking issues, just like we can't guarantee that about any car, but it sure seems like this story was a premature attempt to shed more negative light on the automaker without researching the details. Check out Tesla's description of its current Model 3 on-track testing process via Roadshow:
Tesla has confirmed to Roadshow that its brake-and-roll testing and on-track testing procedures are identical. Both tests begin by burnishing (or bedding-in) the brakes by accelerating to 60 miles per hour and then decelerating down to five mph. This is done three times in relatively quick succession and is fairly standard practice across the industry. Next, the vehicle's anti-lock brake system is checked for functionality. This is done by running the vehicle up to speed and triggering the system by braking hard. If the ABS triggers, the vehicle is passed and if it doesn't, it isn't. Finally the vehicle is brought to 60 miles per hour and then coasted down to a stop -- this measures drivetrain drag.
Tesla can't really afford for the Model 3 to have critical problems - and we mean that literally. The automaker is pushing to become profitable and to prove to the world that it can pull this off. One can only hope that the production constraints and expectations don't put the company in any position where a corner is cut, which eventually leads to turmoil. However, in the case of the adapted brake-and-roll test, it seems Telsa is covering all the right bases.