Learning from Tesla’s Mistakes

By Tamara Wilhite posted 12-03-2019 05:24:01 PM


This article isn’t about the cybertruck, the electric vehicle that looks like it wants to be a DeLorean and came out looking more like a set piece from “Bladerunner”. Instead, I’m going to analyze some of Tesla’s mistakes when it comes to manufacturing everything it tries to make.


Automating Everything


Elon Musk admitted in a 2018 interview that one of their mistakes was automating everything. In his interview with Gayle King, he described the complex network of conveyor belts they used. There were many other areas where they built machines that cost more to build and operate than it would cost to have a semi-skilled human do the job. Ironically, this was a mistake GM made in the 1980s.


Automating Too Soon


I would argue that one mistake Tesla made was automating everything from the warehouse to the factory while they were in the early stages of development. It is one thing for Ford to develop a truck that’s hardly changed in 30 years but for the electronics and automate nearly every step of the assembly process. For a company still trying to figure out how to manufacture cars at a profit, it is a mistake to automate nearly all parts of the process, locking in how they do things. It makes it cost prohibitive to make iterative improvements.

The related problem is the economics of automating everything while still in development. If they can’t make enough items with the current production line to recoup the investment, they can’t afford to make the iterative improvements they need to make.


Trying to (Literally) Reinvent the Wheel


In some areas, Tesla had to develop its own, better solutions. For example, they’re world leaders in battery technology. That is essential to building their electric cars, and the PowerWall is arguably the local energy storage system we need to offset the unpredictable and wild variability that comes with renewable energy. However, they tried to design many other components in house instead of relying on off-the-shelf hardware. They do buy a variety of items from a small network of suppliers. But if they hadn’t tried to literally redesign everything and pulled from existing suppliers as much as possible, they’d have brought costs down much sooner.


What other mistakes did Tesla make that could have been prevented or reduced if he had more industrial engineers on staff?