Munro & Associates tears down cars to produce competitive analyses of how those cars are assembled. While they found many things to praise about the Tesla Model 3, they derided its heavy and complicated body structure. Among the reasons for this was apparently wasteful use of many parts where a single stamped component would suffice. This introduces more steps into the production process to go wrong and increases the weight of the overall product.
The Detroit Free Press quoted Sandy Munro who described the Model 3 body as “dinosaur technology” and attributing it to “arrogance” on the part of Tesla, a Silicon Valley upstart.
Flexibility isn’t free
Here again I see evidence of a drive for flexibility superseding other considerations. Car manufacturing supply chains are famously slow and inflexible. It’s hard to be nimble when you need cheap and plentiful parts from suppliers. Those suppliers will mass produce these parts only if certain volume targets can be guaranteed. Change your mind and you are looking at huge retooling costs or wasted material.
My theory here is that in order to let Tesla stay flexible, it is not designing with large monolithic parts but rather a jigsaw of multiple pieces, hedging their bets. If the company redesigns an assembly, they may only need to order a change to one of its component parts, rather than one much larger stamping.
I have no inside knowledge at Tesla but imagine for example the floor of the “frunk” – the trunk in the front of the car. The design of that component will change as the company rethinks how the front motor is integrated into the car for all wheel drive versions. The car was rushed to market as rear-drive only and it wouldn’t surprise me if the design for the front-drive components was incomplete. Building the frunk floor out of multiple pieces would allow modifications to it to accommodate the second motor at lower cost, since only part of the floor patchwork would need to change.
Later, once the design is settled and the parts already committed to are used up, Tesla can order a single stamping to replace the patchwork.
Tesla started from nothing 15 years ago and now makes three high margin cars and has the valuation second only to two other automakers, Toyota and Volkswagen. They’ve accomplished this by ruthlessly prioritizing the creation of innovative and exciting products as fast as possible.
That means building cars in tents, and making them like a patchwork quilt while they stabilize the design. In other words, Tesla is making a Minimum Viable Product.
You can’t be excellent at everything. Tesla is the first to market with exciting electric cars. That may mean they are heavier than they need to be, and come with spotty build quality.
I am sure these flaws agitate Elon and his team (and they will address them over time), but when you have more orders than you can fill, they are high quality problems to have.