Tesla Functions More Like A Software Company Than An Automaker

White Tesla Model X, Red Model S - Tesla showroom

MAY 21 2018 BY EVANNEX 3


What’s really happening on the factory floor at Tesla? The Wall Street Journal’s John D. Stoll was lucky enough to get an inside look. He acknowledges that “the plant is closely guarded against outsiders—rarely open to media, analysts, let alone competitors… [but] I took a tour on Thursday, observing the body shop where 1,068 robots were welding, gluing or riveting together parts for dozens of Model 3 sedans.”

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Matt Pressman. The opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs.

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So what did he find? Stoll notes that Tesla is “a car company that looks more like a software company—making changes as it goes along and pushing through product updates to cars already on the road. Doug Field, a former Apple Inc. and Ford Motor Co. engineer who is now Tesla’s engineering chief, notes that, rather than ‘batch large changes all at once,’ Tesla continues to make tweaks after a product launches, much as the software industry does.”

Stoll explains that Field is offering a new take on the Japanese principle of continuous improvement, kaizen, made famous in the auto industry by Toyota. Instead, “Mr. Field said Tesla practices ‘continual disapproval’ of its processes and is ‘almost religious’ in sweating over everything from seat costs to the best way to attach a roof rack to its $35,000 sedan.”

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After discussing recent changes with Field, Stoll notes that Tesla has “changed the factory tooling so that items like the cover to the tow hook behind the front bumper [had] went from being an awkward fit to a seamless one…. [in contrast] auto giants typically would iron out such problems in a pre-production phase, making changes before a model reached dealer showrooms.”

Stoll spoke with Ford Motor’s chief of markets, Jim Farley, who acknowledges “this is where a lot of tech companies do a better job—they observe the customer and they change quickly. They put something out and it doesn’t work and they fix it and they put it out again, constantly figuring it out and fixing.”

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Meanwhile, Musk has (himself) been working through production bottlenecks. Stoll reveals that Tesla was taking 7 hours to produce a battery pack. Later, “Workers and engineers had been debating solutions… [then] Mr. Musk sat down with them to slash production time to 70 minutes by entirely reordering the way that assembly of batteries flowed.” A technician at Tesla’s Gigafactory said that Musk, “came in and eliminated 80% of the problems we were having.”


Source: Wall Street Journal

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers, free of charge. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX. Check out the site here.

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3 Comments on "Tesla Functions More Like A Software Company Than An Automaker"

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Big deal. Why don’t you add a comment there if you have nothing relevant to add here.

“They put something out and it doesn’t work and they fix it and they put it out again, constantly figuring it out and fixing.” Speaking from experience working in high tech that’s a good way to piss off customers and eat up much of your time fixing problems in product already produced and “in the field”. Using this approach, a Model 3 is not a model 3, each is somewhat unique since everything is in flux and only software is more or less uniformly upgraded in product already produced. Supporting this type of product in the field is a pain because each one is somewhat different, and repair cost can differ significantly depending on how “down rev” the parts on a particular car are (Oh, that’s an all welded assembly now, so you’ll also have to replace these things). Tesla spokes people emphasize “pushing changes Over the Air”, but of course that only works for software, not hardware. There are good reasons for “freezing” design prior to going into production, and only periodically cutting in well-tested and documented changes into production. The way Tesla is doing it gets product out more quickly (why high tech upper mgmt likes it) but… Read more »