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Automotive

Tesla Model 3 production counts on risky assembly line strategy

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Tesla hopes to avoid the problems that plagued its Model X crossover for its Model 3 sedan by … wait for it … skipping a pre-production quality control process called “soft tooling.” The process involves testing and tweaking a new model’s assembly-line tooling before full-scale volume production begins.

According to a person familiar with Tesla’s assembly-line planning, the automaker did use soft tooling for the Model X. So why didn’t it identify some of the manufacturing issues? It probably did, but Tesla’s self-imposed tight deadlines for Model X production left no time to apply the lessons learned to permanent production tooling.

“Soft tooling did very little for the program and arguably hurt things,” said the person to Reuters.

During a call with investors last month, Musk said computer simulations would help the automaker skip the soft-tooling process and begin straightaway with production tooling. However, there are risks. Issues that could arise could prove more difficult to deal with, and production equipment could be expensive to fix or replace if it doesn’t work correctly. Working in Tesla’s favor is the company’s purchase of a tooling outfit in 2015 that should help speed any adjustments to flawed production tools.

Let’s recap: Tesla’s flawed Model X launch was partly due to not taking the time to adjust for problems identified in the soft-tooling phase of pre-production. The lesson Tesla learned? Don’t bother with soft tooling for the Model 3. Given the EV maker’s hopes for 500K Model 3 sales per year, it’s a risky bet — the kind we’ve come to expect from Musk and Tesla.


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