Inside the car factory of the 21st century

This weekend, electric carmaker Tesla Motors opened its doors to the first customers who put a down payment on the sedan. I went to check out the factory to see how the electric sedan is made.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

As Tesla retires its expensive Roadster for a more affordable ride, the new Model S takes the spotlight at the plant in Fremont, California. Tesla opened its doors this weekend to its first customers for its new Model S.

We took a look at the production facility for this $49,500, seven passenger car.

With dino-like robots around me, I felt like I stepped into the future of manufacturing.

The car starts as aluminum sheets of metal. That's when the robots step in.

While old-school manufacturing involves piece-by-piece assembly, that's not the case at the Tesla plant. A robot can be programmed to weld, drop a tool, apply adhesive, and handle new models as they come online. One robot can perform around five tasks.

Chris Anderson wrote on Google+, "This is the future of American manufacturing. They can make anything. It's almost 100% vertically integrated, which means everything from plastics and metals to batteries, electronics, motors and component assembly is done here, with flexible multi-purpose robots. Every car can be different, with no retooling, because the robots can do anything. It's just software."

The former NUMMI factory was previously used by Toyota to produce some cars for the Toyota line. The factory is capable of producing half a million vehicle per year.

In the assembly line, the doors and the lid are removed for more work. The parts are put together in sub-stations, where the dashboard, seats, and steering wheel are assembled.

There's no engine in the front of the Model S. When Tesla's CEO Elon Musk rolled up in the Model S before his talk during the event, an eighth person popped out of the front to illustrate that point. [Watch a part of Musk's talk here].

The car can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour, faster than a Porsche. The battery pack will include three choices: 160 miles, 230 miles, or 300 miles. The battery pack is interchangeable. It will come in handy during long road trips, so customers can easily put in a battery pack that has been fully charged.

The customers who put an early down payment on the car lined up past mid-night to go for a spin.

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