Elon Musk says that Tesla relied on too many robots to build the Model 3, which is partly to blame for the delays in manufacturing the mass-market electric car. In an interview with CBS Good Morning, Musk agreed with Tesla's critics that there was an excessive reliance on automation and very few human assembly line workers building Model 3.
Earlier this month, Tesla announced that it had officially breached its goal of manufacturing 2,500 model 3 vehicles a week by the end of this year's first financial quarter. It will start the second quarter making only 2,000 models 3 per week, but the company says it still believes it can reach a rate of 5,000 models per week at the midpoint of 2018.
"Crazy and complex network of conveyor belts"
Previously, Tesla blamed the bottlenecks in the production of Model 3 batteries in the company's Gigafactory for delays. But in a broad (and largely positive) interview with Gayle King of CBS, Musk also admits that it was Tesla's excessive dependence on robots in production.
Photo of James Bareham / The Verge
Musk said that the company needs more people working in the factory and that automation slowed down the production process of Model 3. He referred to a "crazy and complex network of conveyor belts" that the company had previously used and said that the company eliminated after it became clear that it was not working.
It's a rather impressive admission of the man who previously compared the huge factory of his company with an "alien dreadnought" thanks to the complex assembly of advanced robotic arms that build his line of electric cars. In a profit call with investors last year, Musk talked about the production speeds facilitated by Tesla robots. "It's remarkable how much can be done simply by hitting the robots … adding additional robots at the choke points and making the lines really come out, very fast," he said. "Speed is the ultimate weapon."
"Speed is the ultimate weapon"
Last year, Tesla acquired Perbix, a private machining company that manufactures automatic equipment for factories, which allows the automaker to bring the production of more parts in-house. Tesla described the agreement as another step in his long-established ambition to "build the machine that makes the machine."
In fact, Musk was so sure that Tesla had succeeded in mixing the robots and humans that his giant Gigafactory would become the company's final product. "The long-term competitive strength of Tesla will not be the car, it will be the factory," he said last February. "We are going to produce the factory."
Musk is also one of the main voices that urges caution in the development of robotics and artificial intelligence. He has asked governments to regulate AI to prevent technology from threatening human existence, and has warned about the arrival of an "apocalypse of AI".
"We were pleased with some of the things we felt were our core technology"
Also in the interview, Musk said that the technical complexities of Model 3 were also to blame for the company's continuing "production hell". "We were pleased with some of the things we felt were our core technology, we put too much technology into the Model 3 all at once," said Musk.
A spokesperson for Tesla refused to clarify Musk's comments. Although esthetically more minimal than Model S or X, Model 3 uses 2170 lithium-ion battery cells, which are more complex than the industry-standard 18650 battery cells used in Model S and X. Musk previously confirmed that Gigafactory 1 Tesla Nevada was the source of production bottlenecks that slowed deliveries of Model 3. Panasonic, Tesla's battery cell manufacturing partner in the factory, has also confirmed this.
To be sure, Musk has used the "too much technology" excuse before. In 2016, he took charge of the problems with the production of the Model X, and told the audience of Tesla shareholders: "This [Model X] program has been a challenge, particularly I need to blame myself for a bit of arrogance for putting too much technology at once into a product. "Model 3, he said, would not have as much technology as Model S and X.
Now Musk said he took over the production of the Model 3, sleeping at the Tesla factory in Fremont, in an effort to monitor the launch of the vehicle. In the interview, he shows King the conference room where he sleeps. A pillow and a sleeping bag can be seen in the shot. King calls the sofa "not even […] comfortable".