Some Tesla employees, including those who have left and are still in the job, have told Business Insider that while Tesla Motors’ technology is commendable, the manufacturing process is not. Despite improvements in recent years, problems at its Vermont plant have a long history.
The manufacturing difficulties at Tesla’s Vermont plant contrast sharply with the new joint-venture of Toyota and General Motors (“NUMMI”). Between 1984 and 2010, NUMMI manufactured cars at the plant.
Through NUMMI, Toyota “taught” GM the secret to implementing its production process. After Toyota installed its production system, the Vermont plant became one of the nation’s best-known auto manufacturing plants, industry experts said. But after the economic crisis, GM went bankrupt, and Toyota closed the plant, which was bought cheaply by Tesla in 2010.
Tesla does not “inherit” Toyota’s famous production methods. Interviews with 42 people who have worked in auto manufacturing at Tesla since 2008 show that it values production and technology, less quality and safety. Fifteen of them worked at NUMMI and four at Toyota.
Several respondents who have worked at Tesla and NUMMI say that while Tesla CEO Elon Musk is ambitious to revolutionise car manufacturing, the Vermont plant did better under NUMMI.
Tesla did not comment.
The focus is on yield, not quality.
One of the biggest differences between the two companies, according to five people with both Tesla and Toyota work experience, is that Tesla values quantity more than quality. Seven Tesla employees believe the company is always more concerned with meeting production targets than ensuring that the quality of the car is perfect.
Dennis Cruz, who left Tesla last May with a shoulder injury, said, “As a quality inspector, I was told i could open one eye to the welding point and the quality of the holder.” Cars without a trunk cover are also sent to paint and then repaired with accessories. “
Tesla’s product control problems are not unnoticed by users.
Two respondents, who worked at NUMMI for 20 years, said that 97% of NUMMI’s cars had no problems.
Toyota is known for its product quality and productivity, making it one of the world’s largest and most profitable automakers. Jeffrey Liker, a professor at the University of Michigan, says Toyota has been imitated by almost all carmakers over the years, but has never been surpassed.
Some of the respondents, who both had experience working at Tesla and NUMMI, said Tesla had paid the price for turning a blind eye to Toyota’s approach to production. The first three models produced at the Vermont plant, the Model S, Model X and Model 3, all suffered serious jumps.
Tesla employees say the pursuit of production speed is partly the reason for the company’s product control problems. Some employees said they would also be silent when they found the problem, fearing that pointing out that the problem could cause production line shutdowns, contrary to Toyota’s production system.
Among the respondents, a former Tesla employee said that colleagues would not mark minor problems such as scratches and dents, but would instead hope that colleagues in the next process would find them, and that his boss would sometimes tell him to ignore the problems he found.
Nine respondents with both Tesla and NUMMI experience said Toyota paid more attention to the details of the production process than Tesla. If production defects are found, Toyota will do anything to shut down the production line.
One former Tesla executive said it was not employees who were unwilling to address quality issues, but rather that the company was under intense pressure to produce enough cars to generate revenue and avoid bankruptcy.
Among the respondents, other Tesla employees took a positive view of the company’s product controls, and a Bloomberg survey showed that Tesla’s product controls were already improving, with the number of defects reported by users in the first 30 days of purchase slowest than ever in September 2019.
The Consumer Reports survey also showed that Tesla’s users were more satisfied than other brands.
Robots drop chains from time to time.
Before the Model 3 went into production in 2017, Tesla was using robots to replace labor to reduce costs and increase productivity. But so far, employees say, Tesla’s robots are less reliable than NUMMI did.
Several Tesla employees said robots that spray paint, assemble, weld and transport processes at their Vermont plant often failed. In December, an average of about two machines at a Vermont plant failed, two of them said. One interviewee, an employee of the Model 3 assembly line, said that a machine that placed the wheel liner on the assembly line had four failures a week and that the robot installing the Front Seat of the Model 3 had five failures a day.
Sandy Munro, CEO of manufacturing consulting firm Munro and Associates, says Tesla’s plant has had more failures than the average auto plant, with equipment failing once a month.
Toyota’s goal is to keep the plant’s production equipment at 99% of its normal life, a goal that is usually met.
Five people with Tesla’s work said the company did not maintain or preserve equipment at the Vermont plant in order to maximize production. Failure to maintain and preserve equipment means that repairs are temporary.
“Maintenance and preservation are on schedule, and you don’t need a lot of managers and supervisors on hand to keep the equipment running,” said a Tesla production executive, referring to NUMMI. Weekend maintenance personnel have plenty of time to resolve equipment problems. “
Earlier, employees reported that supervisors had told them to use electrical tape to repair cracks in the casings and plastic stands. A Tesla spokesman said the employee’s disclosure of these practices did not comply with the company’s production process, the car is subject to strict quality checks before shipment.