Tesla’s manufacturing advantage lies in legacy auto’s stranded assets

Tesla Model 3 production line in Gigafactory 3, Shanghai, China. (Credit: Tesla)

Tesla’s focus on manufacturing has solved a vast number of issues that the electric automaker has encountered in its first few years of mass-scale vehicle production. With only two operational vehicle production facilities and several more on the way, Tesla’s biggest advantage in production doesn’t necessarily come down to efficiencies and solving bottlenecks. Instead, it has to do with something completely out of its control: Legacy Auto’s stranded assets.

Large vehicle manufacturers have pumped out millions of vehicles per year in sometimes between 50 and 100, sometimes more, global facilities. Volkswagen, for example, has 136 production plants across the world. This massive production operation lead to 9.3 million VW cars being delivered in 2020, a slight decrease from the nearly 11 million in 2019. However, the COVID-19 pandemic surely wiped away some of its productivity and sales.

But Volkswagen is also in limbo, much like many other automakers. Despite being one of the world’s top brands, a decline is on the way if the German company can’t figure out its electric car software issues. Even if it does, it still has 136 production plants and only a few of them build electric cars. However, all of the company’s plants will need to be transitioned into EV production facilities, a far cry away from the current gas-powered powertrains it currently builds at 98% of its properties.

It’s not just Volkswagen

Mercedes-Benz has 93 locations in 17 countries. BMW has 31 facilities in 15 countries. Ford has 65 plants all across the world.

These plants have been everything to the world’s largest car brands for decades. While the automotive industry has been powered on petrol for 99% of the auto industry’s history, EVs are slowly but surely making their way into the picture. Eventually, with so many plants for the legacy automakers, they will all build electric powertrains. But unfortunately, what has been a strength for so many car companies in the past will soon become a burden as EVs take over market share, become more appealing and more sought after by consumers, and gas cars are few and far between because electrification has taken over. The biggest, most successful, most popular badges on vehicles worldwide will soon have a serious problem on their hands if they do not think about a plan to transition these facilities into EV manufacturing plants.

Time is of the essence

Volkswagen did complete ICE production at its Zwickau plant in Mosel, Germany, in June 2020. After the company announced that the final gas-powered engine had rolled off production lines at the plant, it then came down to training all technicians, assembly workers, and production engineers on how to deal with electric powertrains.

The company stated that 20,500 total days of training time would be given to those who hold jobs at Zwickau, giving the employees no reservations about the direction the German automaker was headed toward. The entire process of transitioning the plant took six to eight months.

This is great, but when a company has 136 plants, that’s a lot of time, many people to train, and a lot of money to spend. Eventually, the plants that have pumped out billions of dollars worth of ICE cars will be rendered useless unless companies begin to update their hardware, train the employees, and prepare for an electric future.

Is delaying EV projects a result of stranded assets?

Companies are smart; there are plenty of reasons why these car companies have long been at the top of the industry. Knowing that the trillions of dollars that they have pumped into building a global powerhouse of production facilities could all be a waste as ICE cars are slowly being phased out is alarming, but perhaps this is why so many companies have avoided focusing on EVs: the thought of modifying so many plants is terrifying.

Nevertheless, it will need to be done eventually. But right now, especially in such a trying economic time, manufacturers are trying to save their faces and their balance sheets by keeping this narrative that EVs are not that important, that gas cars will still dominate, and that consumers should continue to buy petrol-powered machines. Manufacturers continue to push consumers in a direction, even if they know it doesn’t align with climate issues or sustainability because they know that their plants will need major updating. This takes time and money, and car companies don’t have a lot of that.

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For these legacy automakers, it makes more sense to push gas cars onto consumers and set aside any notions of an EV being a better option, simply because they haven’t made one that is worth a damn…yet.

How is this Tesla’s Advantage?

Tesla is sitting in a prime position to dominate the EV sector for years to come. It is no secret that the company’s vehicles are the highest quality electric cars on the planet; range and performance and contributed to this for several years. However, EVs are the way of the future, and while Tesla has to build new plants to build EVs, it isn’t building them at the massive scale that ICE manufacturers are building their cars. EVs are still a relatively small portion of the worldwide automotive market, and Tesla’s growth is on par with the industry as a whole, mostly because they are controlling it for the time being.

Tesla won’t have to build 136 plants. It won’t have to transition old factories that are pumping out useless powertrains. It will have to build more, but that won’t halt production altogether, especially considering the two factories it has now are handling demand without much of an issue.

Tesla’s plants are going to be assets for centuries to come. Meanwhile, other automakers have focused on the global scaling of their vehicle fleets, only realizing that their strategically placed production plants will all be useless in a few years unless companies begin transitioning their once high-powered manufacturing facilities to EV-based production lines.

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Tesla’s manufacturing advantage lies in legacy auto’s stranded assets
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