It's Time to Figure Out What's Going on at Tesla Motors

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
it s time to figure out what s going on at tesla motors

Lately, we’ve been guilty of the same behavior as a lot of other well-rounded and objective automotive publications — bashing Tesla Motors. It hasn’t been done maliciously, but we’d be lying if we said the divisive hype and hate surrounding the company didn’t bother us. However, since the summer launch of the Model 3, a slew of happenings at Tesla have have raised unanswered questions.

The biggest question surrounds the cause of the company’s rather severe production delays. Tesla also fired hundreds of employees this month, without any clear answer as to why, and seems to have shelved a cross-country trip aimed at highlighting the progress made with its Autopilot driver assistance platform.

None of this would be quite so noteworthy if its stock valuation wasn’t still stratospherically high and CEO Elon Musk hadn’t publicly promised so much — but that isn’t the reality we’re living in. Now, with the company reporting its third quarter earnings on Wednesday evening, we’re hoping to get some clarity on what exactly is happening in Fremont, California.

Earlier this month Tesla reported that it had only built 260 Model 3 sedans in the third quarter, despite forecasting 1,500 units in the same timeframe. Citing “production bottlenecks” as the reason, the automaker hasn’t given any additional explanations for the assembly delay. Bloomberg, also keen for answers in this weeks earnings report, said Musk was “camping” on top of the company’s Gigafactory outside of Reno, Nevada, and speculated that the problem could be a battery supply issue.

Taking a step back and looking at Tesla’s production goals in comparison to well-established manufacturers doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, even under idyllic circumstances. The company is trying to explode into high-volume production at a pace that is difficult to comprehend, and without a clearly outlined path to get there. With delays ongoing, shareholders need more answers and less self-promotion.

One such solution could stem from adding a production facility in China. In June, Tesla said it’s “working with the Shanghai Municipal Government to explore the possibility of establishing a manufacturing facility in the region to serve the Chinese market.” That deal was expected to have solidified into something tangible by the end of the year, but we’ve yet to hear anything.

We also haven’t heard much regarding the company’s staffing issues. The firm has lost essential members of its Autopilot team, potentially stalling autonomous development plans and explaining why we haven’t heard anything about enhanced features in a while. But it also reportedly fired a large hunk of its production team in California this month. While Tesla remains somewhat tight-lipped on the reasoning behind it, the United Auto Workers has filed a federal complaint claiming the layoffs were a result of Fremont-based employees supporting efforts to organize.

When questioned as to the validity of the UAW’s claims, Tesla eventually stated that the terminations were part of a performance review process. “At Tesla, we strive to be a fair and just company, the only kind worth being,” a spokesperson said in an email. “Performance reviews result in promotions and occasionally in employee departures. No one at Tesla has ever or will ever have any action taken against them based on their feelings on unionization.”

Still, the layoffs came as a bit of a surprise from a company striving to bolster volume and maximize production hours. However, if these employees were dead weight, losing them wouldn’t necessarily be a crushing blow.

Perhaps the biggest conundrum is that of the company’s financing. While we know Tesla had around $3 billion in cash at the end of the second quarter, we also knew that the Model 3 was going to be a six-month money pit. There was no way it couldn’t be. But, with individual delivery wait times stretching to the end of next year and no word yet on how the company plans to solve its production problem, we don’t know how long this cash burn is going to last.

Hopefully, Tesla can provide the public with some clear answers in tomorrow’s report, because we really could use them at this point.

[Image: Tesla]

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2 of 47 comments
  • Master Baiter Master Baiter on Nov 01, 2017

    I would only be concerned if I were a Tesla shareholder, or an employee of the SEC, neither of which describes me. And ramping down focus on autonomous driving development is probably a good idea. . .

  • Voyager Voyager on Nov 02, 2017

    I am sure that Musk has his strategic reasons for his Alleingang in producing Teslas, and that production itself is pretty specific... But working together with other car manufacturers could have solved the issue of getting seriously behind with producing Teslas. Particularly since there are still plenty of abandoned and uderused production facilities. Nothing new to subcontract another car maker. Valmet and Magna would have been happy to cater to Tesla, is my guess.

  • MaintenanceCosts We need cheaper batteries. This is a difficult proposition at $50k base/$60k as tested but would be pretty compelling at $40k base/$50k as tested.
  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...
  • Greg Add me to the list: 2017 Sorento EX AWD w/2.0 Turbo GDI 68K miles. Changed oil religiously with only synthetic. Checked oil level before a rare long road trip and Ievel was at least 2 quarts down. That was less than 6 months after the last oil change. I'm now adding a quart of oil every 1000 miles and checking every 500 miles because I read reports that the oil usage gets worse. Too bad, really like the 2023 Tuscon. But I have not seen Hyundai/Kia doing anything new in terms of engine development. Therefore, I have to suspect that I will ony become a victim of a fatally flawed engine development program if I were to a purchase another Kia/Hyundai.