Reliance on robots partially to blame for Model 3 production delays, says Elon Musk

For companies rushing to automate, a cautionary tale from the most automation-heavy carmaker on the planet.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

A surfeit of automation introduced too quickly in Tesla's Model 3 production line may be partially to blame for delays.

That's according to Elon Musk, who gave CBS This Morning host Gayle King a walkthrough of the Model 3 line and answered questions about missed targets and production delays.

Since launching last summer, the Model 3, which costs $35,000 for the base model and is touted as the first affordable electric car, has been the subject of much analyst handwringing.

Also: Numbers tell the story: A new record for automation technologies

A Bloomberg tool that estimates Model 3 production based on VIN registrations puts the current pace at about 3,000 units per week, far below the company's stated target of 5,000 units sustainably produced per week by the end of Q4 last year.

Prompted by delays, Musk personally took over Model 3 production from SVP of engineering Doug Field earlier this month.

The Model 3 line, located in the company's Fremont, California, factory, is one of the most automation-heavy auto production lines ever built.

Though often overshadowed by Musk's very public concerns about robots and artificial intelligence, the CEO and entrepreneur has long been a staunch supporter of industrial automation at Tesla. In November of last year Telsa acquired Perbix, a company that makes automated manufacturing equipment.

Musk also stated in a 2016 shareholder meeting that the secret sauce in car production is perfecting the machines that build the machines.

But in the King interview he struck a different note, suggesting the company may have automated too many processes too quickly. He made specific reference to a huge network of conveyer belts that had to be ripped out because it wasn't working properly.

Tesla paused Model 3 production for a week in February to improve automation. He's described the process of making the Model 3 as "production hell."

There are around 10,000 human workers at the company's Fremont factory. In the CBS interview, King suggested there weren't enough humans working among the robots.

"I agree," Musk replied.

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