Tesla Is Still In Hell With Model 3 Production

Photo: Sam Woolley

Bloomberg is out this morning with a a well-reported, well-sourced deep-dive into Tesla’s ongoing Model 3 production hell, which is worth reading in full. I will highlight a few passages here, though, one revealing an episode of absurdist horror and the other, well, the other is just very, very bleak.

Let’s start with the absurdist horror:

On Nov. 18, 2016, eight months before Model 3 production began, a factory employee heard a scream coming from just outside the main building at the Fremont plant. He saw a colleague, quality-control lead Robert Limon, writhing on the blacktop and grabbing at his leg, which was “bleeding like crazy,” the worker says. The specifics of this incident haven’t been previously reported.

Limon’s co-workers gathered around him. Someone used a belt to tie a tourniquet around his leg. The witness, who declined to be named out of concern for adverse consequences from Tesla, says management offered counseling for people who had seen what happened—and the witness took the company up on it, because it was traumatic.

Limon later told this co-worker he’d been hit by a forklift driver who’d been doing doughnuts on the property for fun. Limon didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story, but according to people who saw and spoke to him in the following days, and as depicted in photos seen by Bloomberg Businessweek, the injured leg was amputated.

Damn.

On to the dystopia:

Current and former employees describe 12-hour shifts as common, with some going as long as 16 hours.

To battle exhaustion, employees drink copious amounts of Red Bull, sometimes provided free by Tesla. New employees develop what’s known as the “Tesla stare.” “They come in vibrant, energised,” says Mikey Catura, a Tesla production associate. “And then a couple weeks go by, and you’ll see them walking out of the building just staring out into space like zombies.”

Four current employees say the pressure they felt to avoid delays forced them to walk through raw sewage when it spilled onto the floor. Dennis Duran, who works in the paint shop, says that one time when workers balked, he and his peers were told, “Just walk through it. We have to keep the line going.” Tesla says it’s not aware of managers telling employees to walk through sewage and that plumbing issues have been handled promptly.

An overworked, apparently drugged workforce walking through shit to accomplish CEO Elon Musk’s grand, possibly insane vision is bleak indeed.

Anyway, there’s also some fascinating anecdotes about the unconventional way the Model 3 was designed and then engineered:

Musk declared he didn’t want visible air vents. “I don’t want to see any holes,” von Holzhausen recalls him saying. Von Holzhausen paired engineer Joseph Mardall with designer Peter Blades to figure that one out. Blades’s sketch called for a recessed gap across the entire width of the car from which the air would flow, with a long strip of wood instead of the dash. Mandel pointed out that to make the approach work, the entire ventilation system would need to be redesigned. “Are we serious about this?” he recalls asking.

Musk was serious, but a second problem soon appeared: The wooden strip, just below the air gap, worked like an aeroplane wing, sucking cold air down and shooting it into the driver’s lap. Mardall, an aerodynamics specialist, proposed adding a second, hidden gap from which air would shoot straight up, lifting the main blast of cold air above the piece of wood and away from the driver’s crotch. “It was one of those eureka moments,” Blades recalls, still in awe of the elegance of the solution. “The spine still tingles.”

I highly recommend you read the whole thing, which you can find here.

To be clear, it’s possible to both admire Tesla’s ambition and disruptive qualities, and think that the way the company is run is crazy—two truths the Bloomberg story makes all the more evident.

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