As Tesla heads towards its Q2 2018 financial results and earnings call, the electric car maker seems to be showing signs that it is gearing up for yet another significant Model 3 production push.
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this month, Elon Musk described the Model 3 ramp as a “bet-the-company” situation — a scenario in which the vehicle’s failure would equate to Tesla’s likely collapse. It was a risky gamble, and it gave Musk what he called “permanent mental scar tissue,” but with the company’s milestone at the end of Q2 2018, when it managed to produce 5,000 Model 3 per week, the end of Tesla’s manufacturing hell appears to be within reach.
To fully get out of production hell, Tesla would need to manufacture the Model 3 at scale and at a sustainable rate — a feat that has proven incredibly challenging for the electric car maker. Over the first half of July, signs were abounding that Tesla was once more defying the odds and maintaining its optimum manufacturing rate for the electric car, with mass sightings of Model 3 being transported, test drives for the vehicle being offered, and mass VIN registrations numbering more than 19,000 being filed in a two-week period. If Bloomberg‘s ever-evolving Model 3 tracker is any indication, however, Tesla’s production rate for the electric car appears to have tapered down recently.
While the recent production drop suggested in Bloomberg‘s tracker might appear negative, the publication’s model also forecasts an upcoming spike in Model 3 production. As of writing, a projection for the next few weeks points to Tesla manufacturing 6,000 Model 3 per week. Over the past few months, these instances of slowdowns followed by sudden bursts that reach record production levels have happened several times. In Q2, shutdowns of the Model 3 line corresponded to the installation of upgrades that gave Tesla the capacity to produce more vehicles than before.
Back in April, Tesla shut down the production of the Model 3 to roll out improvements that enabled the company to hit a manufacturing rate of 3,000-4,000 vehicles per week. In May, another set of upgrades were installed that allowed Tesla to get closer to its then-elusive target of producing 5,000 Model 3 per week. Based on the rationale behind Tesla’s previous production shutdowns, it appears that the electric car maker could be in the process of improving the capacity of its Model 3 line once more.
In a way, the slowdown in production reflected in Bloomberg‘s tracker was teased in Tesla Senior Director of Investor Relations Aaron Chew’s meeting with investors and analysts earlier this month. During the meeting, Chew reportedly noted that Tesla is aiming to hit a sustainable production rate of 5,000-6,000 Model 3 for the rest of the third quarter. After this point, Tesla’s ramp for the vehicle would be less radical, with the company reportedly targeting a pace of 7,000 cars per week for Q4 2018, and 10,000 Model 3 per week by mid-2019. Chew also reportedly noted that Tesla’s GA3 assembly line was only running at ~4,000 vehicles per week at the end of Q2 2018, and that the company was only able to hit its 5,000 Model 3 per week target because of an extra ~1,000 vehicles that were manufactured from GA4. Thus, Tesla’s recent slowdown in Model 3 production could correspond to the installation of upgrades for GA3 that would allow it to produce a steady rate of 5,000, or even 6,000 vehicles per week on its own. If these assumptions prove correct, Bloomberg‘s forecast pointing to a 6,000 Model 3 production week definitely becomes plausible.
Tesla is currently attempting to hit profitability this third quarter. To accomplish this goal, the Model 3’s production has to be optimized. Teardowns of the vehicle, both from Germany and in the United States have been unanimous in the conclusion that the Model 3 is profitable. Detroit’s Sandy Munro even noted that the Long Range RWD version of the vehicle could give Tesla as much as 36% worth of profits. At this point, the only thing standing between Tesla and profitability is its capability to scale and sustain the Model 3’s production. If the company achieves this, it would likely prove to be a hard-fought victory for Elon Musk and the Tesla team.