On a summer evening in Fremont, California, all the glamor of Silicon Valley is mobilized to launch the Tesla 3, the car meant to bring electric vehicles to the mass market. Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder and CEO, personally hands over the first 30 production models to their new owners. But in his speech, Mr. Musk shocked listeners with his dark mood: “We’re going to go through basically about six months of manufacturing hell.”
By now, it is clear that Tesla has bitten off much more than it can chew. Production is nowhere close to achieving Mr. Musk’s ambitious targets. By the end of September, just 260 Tesla 3s had been delivered: far short of the promised 2,500. Until very recently, the Tesla 3 was being screwed together by hand – its production lines had not yet been completed.
Tesla has had problems in the past, as executives and workers rushed to keep up with Mr. Musk’s wild promises. But with the Model 3, things may have gotten out of hand. On the cusp of a new future and potential profitability, Tesla has struck fear into the hearts of German powerhouse carmakers that are slowly waking from their own slumber. But it has also been caught up in an old story of low standards and exploitation.