- Tesla has struggled to make its cars on time and without quality issues.
- That isn’t a coincidence, some current and former employees said. Employees said the electric-car maker has run its California car factory in a different way than its prior occupant, NUMMI, a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors.
- People who have worked for Tesla and NUMMI said the latter was more attentive to the details of putting cars together and better at listening to production-line workers.
- Tesla declined a request to comment.
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Tesla has established itself as an innovator in electric-vehicle technology, but it has struggled with the nuts-and-bolts of making cars.
Each of the four vehicles it has released so far (Tesla has started production for a fifth, the Model Y SUV, but has not yet delivered it to customers), has suffered from production delays, culminating in the troubled rollout of the Model 3 sedan in 2017 and early 2018. The Model 3’s early months were so disastrous, they almost bankrupted Tesla, according to its CEO, Elon Musk.
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The manufacturing difficulties Tesla has faced at its Fremont, California, car factory paint a stark contrast against the facility’s former occupant, NUMMI, a joint between Toyota and General Motors. Before Toyota joined the factory in the 1980s, it was a mess, but after Toyota installed its famed production system, it became one of the best automotive plants in the US.
Tesla has not followed Toyota’s lead, according to current and former employees of Tesla, Toyota, and NUMMI who spoke to Business Insider and described major differences in culture, philosophy, and execution. Where NUMMI was fanatical about quality, Tesla has had a tendency to let issues like dents and paint imperfections slide to boost production numbers. Where NUMMI made it a priority to listen to the ideas of its production-line workers, some of Tesla’s production employees have felt like their input has been ignored.
Despite Tesla’s well-documented manufacturing issues, there have been signs that the electric-car maker is improving on some of its weak spots. Last year, the company went from breaking ground on a factory in Shanghai to delivering cars built there in under 12 months. And Tesla started making the Model Y in January, months ahead of schedule.
But avoiding costly mistakes is not good enough for Musk. He said he wants Tesla to one day surpass its rivals as a world-class manufacturer. In essence, he wants to beat Toyota at its own game.
Based on the accounts of 42 current and former employees, that may be easier said than done.
Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
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