Elon Musk: Tesla can increase the speed of its production line 20-fold

Tesla’s future depends on being able to ramp up to high-volume production quickly. The main pillar of its strategy for doing so is making the production process more efficient – “building the machine that makes the machine,” as Elon Musk puts it.

The mathematically-minded Musk has even formulated an equation to quantify the challenge:

Production output = volume of facility * density * velocity

Musk sees a tremendous opportunity to increase the velocity at which Teslas roll off the assembly line. In fact, in a recent interview with Sam Altman of Y Combinator, Musk said he believes that the company should be able to increase the speed of the production line by 20 times.

Speaking with Tesla’s highly automated Fremont factory as a backdrop, Altman remarked that it is amazing to watch the robots quickly cranking out the cars. However, “this actually has a relatively lower level of automation compared to what the Gigafactory will have and what Model 3 will have,” said Musk.

“Actually our speed on the line is incredibly slow,” Musk continued. “It’s maybe five centimeters per second. This is very slow. I’m confident we can get to at least one meter per second, so a 20-fold increase.”

“One meter per second, just to put it into perspective, is a slow walk or a medium-speed walk.”

Of course, a speed that seems slow for a walking human is still pretty zippy for a massive manufacturing complex turning out two-ton, hundred-thousand-dollar driving machines. But Musk is a famous lover of speed, and he has even faster things in mind. On a conference call in June, he predicted that “the exit rate of cells from the Gigafactory will be faster than bullets from a machine gun.”


Source: Y Combinator via Electrek
Image: NASA Kennedy (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • nordlyst

    Still not as much as a comment from Tesla about the Bolt. They must be even more nervous than I thought.

    • Turbofroggy

      You obviously have been living under a rock over the past 3-5 years or have terrible reading comprehension skills. Go back and read the Tesla Master Plan, the original one. One of Elon and Tesla’s goals is to encourage auto makers to produce better EVs. The Bolt is a good example of that. The Bolt will not be as successful as the Model 3 though due to two reasons, #1 Dealers, #2 constrained production/distribution. Dealers will screw it up, they can’t sell EVs properly, this has been proven time and time again. GM will also limit production to a very small number, somewhere around 30K a year. They will have lop sided distribution throughout the US, making some dealers have dozens and some have none. Then they will keep them in the back, not charged, dirty and push customers toward a Sonic or a Cruise, just like they do the Volt today. All while encouraging the efforts of the NADA to make Tesla sales illegal in their states.

      • bytrain

        Additionally, one can argue that the Bolt and Model 3, once they need to refuel, are only as good as their respective refueling networks. And Tesla has the advantage here for four reasons. First, Tesla has more stations and more chargers per station (6 on average). Thus, drivers will be less likely to be stuck in a queue. Second, the units are corridor- and not city-centric. Thus, they are more conducive to supporting long-distance driving. Third, the typical Tesla SuperCharger refuels at 120kW whereas the typical CCS/SAE Combo unit refuels at 25-50kW (although they are going to 150kW in the future). Thus, CCS drivers will have to wait longer for their refuels. Fourth, all Tesla units are owned and maintained by Tesla whereas CCS units are owned/maintained by multiple third party networks. Studies have shown that the Tesla units are “up” a significantly greater amount of time than the CCS units. Which makes sense since charging is an integral part of Tesla’s business model while it is apparently of little concern to GM.

        • Zephyr

          Oh, I just realized you already covered almost everything I said. Ha

      • Zephyr

        You forgot to mention the slower fast-charge rate (50kW CCS vs 90/120kW Supercharger), compounded by GM’s pointed refusal to support fielding of the stations. I think the Bolt will be a great city/suburb car, but even at 238 miles it’s not really road-trip viable. It’ll be a 2-hour charge if you can find a unit that supports it, and there aren’t many, which means most people won’t go more than 100 miles from home in it, and people who go farther than that will buy other cars. I-5 and I-95 corridors aside, that is.
        It’s a real shame that GM is so conflicted. On the one hand, there appear to be some true beliEVers pushing their tech forward… on the other, you have corporate doing nothing to advertise the (very real) progress they’ve made, or enhance infrastructure to make it the true game-changer that it could be.

    • Lance Pickup

      If he didn’t offer a comment, it’s because he wasn’t asked about the Bolt. Certainly you don’t expect him to just start talking about the competition spontaneously? However, if he was asked, I think he would probably say something along the lines that he is impressed with the pace at which battery capacity has improved such that the Bolt was able to surpass it’s initial estimate of 200 miles, and probably relate that to progress that Tesla and its partner Panasonic have made in capacity, and then probably toss out that as impressive an achievement as the BoltEV is, without a similar commitment to fast charging networks such as the Supercharger network, the BoltEV is not quite ready for long distance travel.

      I don’t think Elon is overly worried about the Bolt at this point in time. Not that I don’t think the BoltEV will cross-shop with the Model 3. I actually think that could be a possibility. But for the same reasons @Turbofroggy:disqus already mentioned, and the lack of a robust quick charging network, I think that whatever headstart the BoltEV may have on the Model 3, it will not be significant.

      • Zephyr

        Having more than one viable long-range BEV at a price most people can afford is likely to increase the overall market for EVs by convincing more people that this is a real thing, so even if they compete, they can still also benefit each other during the transitional phase. Past the tipping point, it converges to a zero-sum game where growth comes at the expense of another’s sales, but that’s decades away.

    • Bill Davis

      The Bolt EV and Model 3 and the like will grow the EV market together. It’s a win-win situation (for those who aren’t stuck making ICE vehicles).

    • Zephyr

      If Elon means anything he’s ever said, because on this subject he’s been clear and consistent ever since he joined Tesla, he is: 1) thrilled that another OEM is making a serious effort at a long-range BEV, but 2) disappointed by the drawbacks still inherent. It’s a good car but the far slower DCFC standard it uses and the lower density of charging locations will severely restrict its appeal in Middle America, where Tesla is already making inroads and continues to pick away at Supercharger network gaps.

      • nordlyst

        Believe that if you want.

        Tesla has 3% of GMs revenues and is losing money. Yet it’s market cap is 60% that of GM. There is only one way to justify that valuation, and that is if Tesla has a future where their profit margins are much higher than those of the industry today.

        The Bolt’s job is to sink the Tesla ship while it’s still in the docks. By offering a car that can compete with Model 3 a lot sooner, and almost certainly lower the price before Model 3 can be bought in base version, GM is making such juicy future margins for Tesla look a lot less certain. And that in turn may affect Tesla’s access to cheap capital.

        Why do you think Tesla, who say themselves Model 3 will “make or break” them, focus so intensely on the Q3 result – which is rather irrelevant in the bigger picture? IDK, but I don’t think because Musk is stupid. He’s extremely smart, so I interpret this misallocation of attention as a clear sign he reckons they have to. It’s a sign GMs attack is having an effect.

        I also don’t accept the premise that Bolt doesn’t compete with Model 3. I reserved a Model 3 before the unveiling and have followed Tesla since the Roadster was a drawing. And I will consider the Ampera-e, mainly because it will be available at least one and probably two years before I can get a Model 3 in base version. But I also think the Bolt may be the better car for my needs. It certainly has more easily exploitable storage. And while it’s not as quick as M3, it is easier to park and likely more comfortable as well.

        I hope Tesla makes it. They enjoy some important advantages – they are very innovative, customer trust and satisfaction is sky high, they will possess by far the biggest battery factory. But it remains to be seen if they can scale and still keep customers happy, make money, and please investors while continuing to do the right thing. But it’s up against deep pockets. There are plenty of examples of how big capital crushes the upstart, regardless who has the better product or technology. Microsoft comes to mind. The number of smaller and better companies they killed before being disrupted by the internet probably has three or four digits!

        All I said was Tesla must be nervous. And they should be. They should be excited also, but definitely nervous.

  • brian_gilbert

    If only Elon Musk would realise that his present technology is more than sufficient for a ‘Completely Driverless vehicles’ zone or country. He is the only one that could get a country to adopt it. He currently accepts that he cannot stop people crashing into his cars but his technology is more than capable of sticking to a road lane under central control like trains. He has also created a ‘can do’ spirit in his staff to rapidly solve teething problems.

  • jstack6

    Tesla also needs the materials including batteries and battery packs in the production line. That seems to be the main item today. It will come a little at a time.

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    For Tesla it’s electric or nothing, that is not the case for GM. GM makes all its current profit from ICE vehicles and that is where there competitive advantages lie. We are watching a slow motion car crash that will play out over twenty years or less. It may be Tesla or BYD or who knows which new player that comes out on top by 2036 but Toyota, GM, Mercedes etc show every sign of joining Kodak in the list of companies that clung to their old ways despite tentative efforts towards the future.
    I claim in the above to know the future, obviously I don’t, just a guess really.

  • MorinMoss

    Very ambitious but talk is cheap especially from a fairly novice automaker that still have lots of production & quality issues to sort out and one that keeps missing deadlines.

  • MorinMoss

    “faster than bullets from a machine gun” – or shrapnel from an exploding rocket??