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Elon Musk’s Tesla ‘Alien Dreadnought’ factory is coming to form–just not where critics expect it

The Tesla Model Y body shop in Fremont, CA. (Credit: Tesla)

There are many aspects of the Tesla ecosystem and Elon Musk’s past forecasts that critics love to attack. Among the most notable of these is the CEO’s vision of an “Alien Dreadnought” factory, an electric car production facility that is so automated, it resembles the extraterrestrial machines depicted in pop culture. Contrary to what critics today would say, Tesla’s hyper-automated factory is actually coming to form — it’s just not where it was initially expected to be.

Elon Musk’s Alien Dreadnought concept was initially intended for the production of the Model 3. Perhaps this is the reason why Musk originally announced an incredibly aggressive timeframe for the all-electric sedan’s ramp. Those who have followed the Tesla story over the past few years would know that the dreadnought did not come to pass. As issues mounted and delays became more prominent in the Model 3 ramp, Tesla and Elon Musk were forced to abandon the idea and instead adopt a manufacturing system that uses machines and people.

The Fremont factory continues to function in this manner until today. Just recently, Tesla critics were discussing how much Tesla is failing since it still maintains its sprung structure-based GF4 line. Others mocked the fact that some Model Y were getting accessories such as floormats installed on the grounds of the Fremont factory. While some criticism is warranted considering that Elon Musk’s Alien Dreadnought factory is yet to pass in its main vehicle plant, one thing is conveniently forgotten by critics: the Fremont factory is not the only Tesla facility that’s producing vehicles today.

The Tesla Fremont factory. (Credit: Tesla)

Over in China, Tesla’s Gigafactory Shanghai is now back to full operations. And true to its reputation, the facility’s buildout continues to be insanely quick. The production of the Made-in-China Model 3 is already ongoing, with recent reports stating that around 3,000 units of the all-electric sedan are being manufactured every week. The construction of the Phase 2 zone, widely considered to be a facility intended for Model Y production, is also continuing at a rapid pace. Based on the way Gigafactory Shanghai is designed and the way that it’s ramping, it appears that the facility is well on its way towards becoming the first of Elon Musk’s Alien Dreadnought factories.

One thing that may be worth considering is the fact that the Fremont factory was not designed by Tesla. The California-based car factory’s history dates as far back as 1962, when it operated as the General Motors Fremont Assembly site until 1982, when it was closed. The plant was reopened in 1984 as the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) plant, a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors, where it continued to produce vehicles until 2010. Tesla later bought the factory to produce the Model S sedan, a decision that was panned by critics then as an unnecessary expense.

The NUMMI Plant. (Credit: Ellen Levy Finch)

With this in mind, it could be said that Tesla was not able to start with a blank canvas for its electric car production activities in the Fremont factory. The facility was constructed with conventional car making in mind, and Tesla essentially had to adapt its processes to the factory’s layout. Elon Musk’s admitted hubris aside, it would be quite a challenging endeavor to convert an automotive factory that was initially opened in 1962 into a hyper-automated, futuristic electric vehicle manufacturing machine. These challenges do not exist in Gigafactory Shanghai.

For its China-based site, Tesla was able to design a factory that’s optimized from the ground up for EV production. A look at the activities in the Phase 1 building would show that the site has notable similarities with the Fremont factory’s “tent-based” GA4 line, with its straightforward production process and its easy access to supply trucks. In a way, Gigafactory Shanghai’s Phase 1 zone is GA4 on steroids, and it seems to be working very well so far. With Gigafactory 3 now running, and with the facility’s Model Y production site coming to form, Tesla now has another opportunity to pursue Elon Musk’s Alien Dreadnought idea. But this time around, the company will be attempting the concept from a blank slate. And that might make all the difference.

The Tesla Gigafactory Shanghai complex has of April 2020. (Credit: Wuwa Vision/YouTube)

The signs are already there. Recent drone flyovers in the Gigafactory Shanghai site show deep excavations connected to the Phase 1 building’s stamping area. Tesla has not revealed that the area is intended for, though speculations among the electric car community suggest that the location may host the company’s giant casting machine, which is designed to make vehicles easier to produce.

Elon Musk and Tesla have teased that the massive casting machine will be used for the Model Y, but the company may be looking to adopt such a technique for the Made-in-China Model 3 as well. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Considering that it’s working with a blank canvas in Gigafactory Shanghai, Tesla can explore and develop automated vehicle production processes that would make the facility deserving of Musk’s Alien Dreadnought title.

Ultimately, it may not be too long before Tesla critics would have to swallow yet another bitter pill. Elon Musk’s Alien Dreadnought concept lives on, and while it may not be starting at the Fremont Factory as initially intended, there is very little that could stop the electric car maker from adopting the idea in facilities beyond Gigafactory Shanghai. Gigafactory Berlin will undoubtedly be incredibly automated as well, and there’s a good chance the Cybertruck Gigafactory will be too.

Elon Musk’s Tesla ‘Alien Dreadnought’ factory is coming to form–just not where critics expect it
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