Whether it’s reinventing windshield glass or engineering superhero robots, Tesla factory workers do things differently. Business Insider sat down with staff at Tesla’s factory in Fremont to learn more about what’s really happening inside the game-changing company.
In 2008, Tesla took over GM and Toyota’s jointly-owned factory, New United Motor Manufacturing (formerly known as NUMMI). Andre Rivera, Tesla’s production training manager, originally got his start there and recalls, “Back in NUMMI days, it was a cool culture… but a lot of people hit the ceiling. There’s no ceiling here. This group of people is very passionate about these cars because they’re changing the environment and they’re changing that way people think about transportation.”
A seasoned 20-year veteran of the auto industry, Rivera acknowledges, “Model 3 is a high priority for us now.” He adds, “The way that we think about the car is totally different from how people have always thought about cars. It wasn’t anything that was crazy, it was just common sense. Why doesn’t everybody think like this?”
For instance, Rivera “points to Tesla’s lack of model years in favor of over-the-air software updates that can improve a vehicle overnight. Rivera, who worked with the traditional industry’s five-to-seven-year cycles for introducing new versions of cars, says Tesla is satisfying a deeply felt customer need. Why should they have to wait so long for something new?” And it’s not just software. Motor Trend once reported that “Tesla implements about 20 modifications to the car per week. Not software, mind you, but actual hard parts.”
Tesla’s quality inspector, Jeff Hickethier, also points out differences at Tesla. Hickethier is responsible for test-driving Teslas at the factory’s test track right as the cars roll off the assembly line. He explains that when “most companies do sample testing, they take one out of every couple thousand cars.” But, Tesla tests at a far higher rate. “There are so many quality checks it’s ridiculous,” he adds. “We’re taught to focus on every little thing.”
How does Hickethier test the alignment, brakes, handling, and award-winning performance characteristics of Tesla’s all-electric cars? It’s reported that, “He runs each vehicle through a gauntlet of challenges, ranging from strips of bumps and rusty chunks of metal to locate loose components or suspension flaws… to speed runs around the track to double-check that a Tesla can live up to its reputation for velocity.” Asked whether he has the coolest job at Tesla, he offers a matter-of-fact verdict. “Probably,” he says, with a grin and a shrug. “Yeah, probably.”