By on November 13, 2017


Unbothered by the constraints of space and time, Elon Musk took to Twitter yesterday, breathlessly announcing a press conference for Thursday. Is the call’s topic set to address Model 3 production troubles? Or, perhaps, provide some insight into the supply chain woes at the Gigafactory? No, dear reader, nothing so mundane.

It’s to announce the Tesla semi truck, which is surely the most urgent topic and best use of resources at Tesla these days.

The company is set to unveil its Class 8 semi truck prototype at 8 p.m. (PT) Thursday night at its California facility. Tesla generally livestreams events such as these on its website and YouTube channel.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who will argue that Tesla has the resources to develop and build this truck, pointing out that one part of the company is focused on the truck while the other is concentrating on righting the Model 3 ship. To some extent, they have a point. After all, a human can study for a math test, switch gears to study for the geography final, then return to their sums.

Whether Tesla can do the same remains to be seen. In a tweet Sunday, Elon himself breathlessly promised that the Semi Truck will “blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension.” Mr. Musk is certainly not short on superlatives.

The unveiling was originally set for September but was delayed while Tesla attempted to sort out its “production hell” and – to the company’s credit – increase battery production for hurricane-affected regions of the world.

During its last earning reports, in which Musk berated journalists for writing about the company’s layoffs, there was general acknowledgement that supply chain organization is really hard and that production would be back on track in short order.

While the business world, and likely Tesla itself, would love to consider itself a tech company, the reality is that the company is bound by the constraints of vehicle production, whether it likes it or not. A single item (whether it’s the Model 3, S, or a semi) has approximately one bazillion parts, all of which need to arrive and be assembled in a certain order if there’s any chance of the process working smoothly. All it takes is for one single part either not showing up or being out of spec to toss a wrench into the whole works.

Tech companies love to boast about their ability to whip their way through an industry while not following any of the rules. Witness Facebook’s missive of “move fast and break stuff.” Tesla fancies itself in the same vein and, for a while, it certainly was. Now, with sights set on mass production and not the manufacturing of niche vehicles, the realities of the assembly line are hitting the automaker square in the face.

Coordination, not speed, is the killer app when trying to nail down one’s supply chain. The myriad of different players that need to be dancing to the same beat, not racing to the finish line. Once all hands are in step, then (and only then) can the company increase the tempo.

Imagine gathering a group of people who’ve never done the tango before, putting them in a room, and turning the music to maximum. Feet would get stepped on, limbs would flail, and most of the class would likely either quit in frustration or get tossed out before the next lesson. Attempting to accelerate a supply chain from rest to light speed in short order is fraught with similar hazards, as the Tesla team is discovering.

Nevertheless, I’m sure Mr. Musk cares not one whit about my observations of his supply chain and will merrily introduce the Tesla semi truck on Thursday in grandiose fashion. Will it meet production goals? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

[Image: Tesla]

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15 Comments on “Despite Hurdles, Tesla Promises a Semi Truck for Thursday...”

  • avatar

    Few of the tech marvels of the current age (smartphones, computers, etc.) are actually manufactured by the companies themselves but outsourced to some 3rd world country on China (a curious mixture of 3rd and 1st worlds) so none of them have any real manufacturing experience beyond Slacking their outsourced to speed up production when they need it thus the shock of just how hard it really is to actually make something.

  • avatar

    Yeah, because there aren’t any cars made in the US and nobody with experience making them. [/S]

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I don’t Tesla for trying, and reducing TCO for a trucking firm could be a big win.

    But I imagine truck fleet owners are far more demanding than consumer car owners, and consumer car owners are far more demanding than early adopters.

    Tesla is out of the early adopter phase, with ~250k vehicles shipped worldwide. The Model 3 customer is *not* an early adopter, and they’ll expect a ‘normal’ ownership experience. Trucking firms, however, won’t tolerate any missteps. Tesla must up their game* to cater to this new customer, or they’ll become a laughingstock in that industry before they even get a foothold.

    *I’m referring to quality, service, timelines, and price targets. The current shenanigans on these items has to end.

  • avatar

    Tesla has always bragged about its vertical integration with respect to manufacturing, so I’m not sure who all these outside component suppliers providing a bazillion parts are the author is talking about.

    What they heve been having trouble with is the new production machinery that makes the parts they need, and the Model 3 assembly line automation system itself, leading them to buy that German engineering firm and put everyone there on minimum wage or something, which went down like a lead balloon. Another part of the production system the line itself, is being engineered and made in Michigan, but the usual multiple design changes Tesla insists on have made that a delayed bust also.

    Otherwise, on the production front, I’d have to say this post is “imaginative” rather than actual. It would make sense if Tesla acted like a regular car manufacturer, but they’re so darn smart they’ve re-invented the basic hamburger with bread in the middle and the two patties outside – hey, it’s a sandwich!

    As for the blow-your-mind sem-I-truck, the other universe is the one where the Tesla loop was somehow funded with public dollars, and friction was abolished as being unproductive.

  • avatar

    I wonder if it will be called TTAC (Tesla Trucks America Corp) ?

    Hopefully Musk will get some sales to NYC or Philly Sanitation.
    If there’s reliability issues, those folks will show his minions how customer service is defined.

  • avatar

    if that thing can back a 53′ trailer 90 degrees then down a 100′ alley with only 6″ on each side with no driver input? then that might be something.

    • 0 avatar

      For any backing maneuvers I would think the trailers themselves would need sensors. I’m not sure how that is going to work because trailers are expensive and trucking companies use their trailers for 15+ years. Also, sometimes the truck is hauling trailers owned by the customer, not the trucking company. Are they going to have to buy Tesla trailers too?

      I drove truck for a short period of time. If your destination isn’t directly off the interstate, you are traveling on smaller roads not designed for trucks with 53′ trailers. In these situations you must perform “risky” maneuvers, like using the oncoming traffic lane to clear a corner when turning.

      I absolutely believe Tesla can automate interstate trucking. Beyond that I am skeptical.

  • avatar

    How can someone “breathlessly” announce something in a tweet. Or maybe the writer is just a twit.

    • 0 avatar
      Trail Rated

      English has evolved since your time grampa.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Tell that the suspect who was denied his right to a lawyer because he said “just give me a lawyer dog”. The police and the courts both agreed that did not indicate that he had invoked his right to legal counsel.

      • 0 avatar

        Trail Rated, You are right, I am probably old enough to be your grandfather, maybe your great grandfather. However I do have a full life behind me. Driving cars that you have probably only read about. I was interested in cars, motorcycles, boats and airplanes. And I was lucky enough to indulge my interest in all of them. Maybe, if you are lucky, you will get to be an old fart, like I am. Now, deep into retirement, I no longer fly or sail or ride motorcycles, but I do still enjoy my car. And I still enjoy life. Maybe you will too, if you change your attitude.

    • 0 avatar

      If one must give feedback, perhaps it should be constructive to encourage growth?

  • avatar
    George B

    What is the problem that a Tesla Semi Truck attempts to solve? I could see a gas/electric hybrid for moving trailers around a city or port with severe pollution problems. Lower oxides of nitrogen and particulates than a diesel with electric motor torque and regenerative braking. However, I don’t see truck owners tolerating down time as batteries are being recharged.

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