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Tesla Model 3 Production Ramp — Steady as She Goes

If a person were to define the goal of aspiration, not in the dictionary sense, but in the ideal sense, a part of it would include attempting to achieve things that were previously considered impossible.

From the point of view of Tesla, setting seemingly impossible goals and then shooting to attain them has apparently become a new model for doing business. As the old adage goes — shoot for the stars. Go ahead try. If you miss them you might hit the moon instead.

With the Model 3, it appears that Tesla, so far, may have just managed to land on the moon after setting some pretty amazingly ambitious initial star-shot-type goals. That said, the moon, at this point, appears to be a temporary way-station as the company course corrects, but is still aiming for some ridiculously starshot-high production goals through 2018.

According to recent announcements from Tesla, the company achieved 2,425 units of production in the 4th Quarter of 2017. This is a considerable jump from third Quarter production of around 260 Model 3s. It is not, however, anywhere near the 5,000 vehicle per week target by year end that Tesla had initially aimed for. In other words — some moon, but no stars as yet. And it’s obvious that some Tesla watchers are disappointed. Perhaps more frustrating to those of us who are EV lovers, Tesla has again scaled back its targets somewhat — shooting for 2,500 vehicles per week by the end of Q 1 of 2018.

(Ramping Model 3 deliveries in a record 4th Quarter for Tesla. Image source: Electrek.)

But before we leave it at that, let’s add just a little context.

The first bit is that reviews for the Model 3 are coming back as very positive. Even Jalopnik, which regularly tears Tesla a new one, recently complained that there wasn’t enough to criticize about the Model 3. Meanwhile, previous Tesla owners are raving about the car. So some credibility must be given, there, to Musk’s recent claim that the company is aiming for a slower ramp to focus more on quality early and push the mass quantity part back for later. But how much later is still a pretty serious question on everyone’s mind.

The second piece of context that’s worth considering is the fact that as of December, the Model 3 was likely the 5th or 6th best selling EV in the United States. If Tesla manages to achieve an average production rate of around 500 to 1,000 vehicles per week in January, then the car will likely be ranked between 1st and 3rd. By March, if the ramp continues to scale up, it’s likely that the Model 3 will hit over 5,000 monthly sales and be the best-selling EV in the U.S.

(Despite moderate production delays, the Tesla Model 3 continues on its ramp to mass production. As you can see from the above video, fans really love this car. Meanwhile, many analysts don’t see major issues with the present Model 3 ramp and still expect Tesla to be selling north of a million EVs per year by the early 2020s.)

Looking still closer, we should take Tesla’s claims of 750+ vehicle per week production in late December with a dash of salt. It’s clear that Tesla production is now ramping. That bottlenecks are being cleared. That said, this announced sustained rate is the highest yet achieved over a relatively decent period of time. And, if past is any guide, it’s likely that Tesla will be speeding and slowing the line as they address issues. We probably shouldn’t assume that every week from now on will produce 750 or more. It could. But it’s likely we’ll see a kind of two step forward, one step back, two step forward progression as Tesla continues to refine the Model 3 line.

To this point we should probably also add that when Tesla says it is aiming for 2,500 vehicles per week by end of Q1, that’s probably a snapshot of peak production. Not of average weekly production during March. Same for the 5,000 vehicle per week target by June.

It’s a lot to digest. But I think those of us who’ve been following EVs for some time should sit back and take stock of what is a really big achievement underway. It may not be happening as fast as many had hoped. But it is happening. And even with its less ambitious ramp, Tesla appears set to at least double its overall EV production during 2018.

Steady as she goes…

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A Beautiful Machine to Change the World — Model 3 to Transform Global Automobile Markets, Open Pathway For Rapid Energy Transition

“The Tesla Model 3 is here, and it is the most important vehicle of the century. Yes, the hyperbole is necessary.” — Motor Trend

“The arrival of Tesla’s Model 3 signals a new chapter in automotive history, one that erases 100-plus years of the gas engine and replaces it with technology, design, and performance hot enough to make electric vehicles more than aspirational – to make [electric vehicles (EVs)] inspirational.” — Wired.

“[T]here isn’t anybody who’s going to sit in the driver’s seat of this car and not want it. The Model 3 stokes immediate desire, and the lust lingers. That truly changes everything.” — Business Insider.

(The Tesla Model 3 entered low rate initial production in July of 2017. There has likely never been a more anticipated, desired, or better reviewed automobile. Image source: Tesla. )

*****

More than half a million. 

That’s the number of pre-orders Tesla’s Model 3 has racked up since its 2016 product announcement and through its July 2017 launch. And it’s possible that there’s never been a car that’s so anticipated, so desired by the public. People are literally clamoring for this best-in-class, long-range, all-electric vehicle. Elon Musk is getting harassed on twitter by followers anxious to know when their Model 3 will be ready for purchase. And it’s questionable if Elon’s plan to go through ‘mass production hell’ to reach 500K per year annual production rates by end 2018 will ever come close to satiating demand for what is far more than just an amazing automobile (Tesla reports it is still accumulating reservations at a rate of 1,800 per day net, or more than 12,000 per week).

If we were to tap into what drives Model 3 customers, what fuels this particularly virulent brand of Tesla-mania, we’d probably find a dynamic combination of desire, aspiration, and fear. Desire for what is hands-down an absolutely awesome vehicle. Aspiration to contribute to a public good through a meaningful purchase. And a growing fear that we need to move very swiftly away from fossil fuels to confront the rising crisis that is human-caused climate change.

Beautiful Machines

The vehicle itself is just simply extraordinary. For 35,000 dollars you can get a car with a 220 mile all-electric range. For 44,000, the car’s renewable legs lengthen still further to 310 miles. This graceful beast can rocket from 0-60 in less than six seconds. And her interior is wrapped in the kind of bubble cockpit, due to glass roofing, that most fighter pilots would envy. She’s a vehicle that gives a nod to the simplicity of earlier times with her gadget-less dash board. Her liquid exterior a reflection-in-form of the plasma-producing energy of a futuristic, but quietly purring, all-electric drive train.

(Tesla’s beautiful machine launches. Top down view shows iconic glass roof. Image source: Tesla.)

Elon Musk has delivered to us the exact opposite of a clunky automobile made up of all the worst excesses of a stinking smokestack civilization. The Model 3 comes across as a bold and proud creature of air and light. A hopeful machine designed in the pursuit of a better future day, a better way forward.

Changing the World for the Better

And this is what brings us to the heart of the matter. The crux of the reason why hunger for the Model 3 is quite possibly without cure, without limit. People in advanced civilizations these days are tired of being the butt of blame. And they are more than a little worried about what may be coming down the Keystone XL pipeline of climate change. They don’t want to contribute to the great death and harm that is worsening climate disruption with their purchases. They no longer want to be consumers captive to the unforgiving, smog-belching yoke of fossil fuels. They want the vehicular equivalent of the paladin’s white horse. They want to buy into a liberation from an age of pain and heartbreak and endless bad choices with no visible way out. And with each Model 3 purchase — that’s exactly what they are doing.

(Tesla aims for 5,000 vehicle per week Model 3 production ramp by late fall. Image source: Tesla.)

For if Tesla is able to meet this visceral demand for a truly renewable vehicle, if the company is able to ramp up to 20,000 + vehicle per month production rates, it will, by itself, more than double the size of the U.S. Electrical vehicle market in just 1-2 years. The batteries the elegant Model 3 relies on will form a basis for extending the reach of already affordable wind and solar energy (as we are seeing this week in a new wind + battery deal off Massachusetts). And the seismic ground wave produced by the Model 3 will drive a major spike in demand for other, similar electrical vehicles from an expanding array of automakers.

The Model 3 is thus the tip of the spear for speeding an energy transition in the U.S. and in many other countries. And she couldn’t have come at a better time.

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