The Model 3 is Tesla's most anticipated vehicle and biggest gamble the company has undertaken. But this gamble has become more risky thanks to a decision concerning the production line.
Reuters reports that Tesla is skipping a step most automakers undertake when producing a new vehicle. Prototype tools are bought in on the production line to help determine issues in terms of fit and finish. Once these issues are worked out, the prototype tools are scrapped and automakers place orders for permanent and expensive tools. But Musk told investors last month, Tesla was jumping into the permanent and expensive part first so they can meet their self-imposed volume production deadline of September.
"He's pushing the envelope to see how much time and cost he can take out of the process," said Ron Harbour, a manufacturing consultant at Oliver Wyman.
According to a source, this 'soft tooling' caused problems for Model X. Due to a tight timeline to get the vehicle into production, Tesla was unable to take any of the lessons learned from this before ordering the final production tooling.
"Soft tooling did very little for the program and arguably hurt things," said the source.
Musk said computer simulations has helped with skipping the prototype tooling stage.
This move fits Elon Musk's tendency to take big gambles and do things a bit different than what is expected in the industry. Most of the time, it has paid off.
The problem is if this equipment proves to be flawed in some way, it could cost Tesla millions to fix the issue and introduce production delays.
"It's an experiment, certainly," said Jake Fisher from Consumer Reports. Tesla could possibly fix these errors quickly, "or it could be they have unsuspected problems they'll have a hard time dealing with."