Morgan Stanley analysts Adam Jonas detailed a recent tour of Tesla’s Fremont Factory in Northern California, which included test drives of the Model 3, Y, and S Plaid. Based on Jonas’ synopsis of the plant, an expansion of the California plant may be just what the company needs, especially as CEO Elon Musk hinted that building onto the factory may be in the cards for Tesla soon, and it sounds like the most logical solution.
Jonas published a lengthy note to investors on Wednesday, indicating the five main takeaways from Morgan Stanley’s plant dealt with a busy work environment, strong margins, supply chain bottlenecks with raw materials, and Full Self-Driving’s take rate with customers.
However, one of the biggest takeaways from the note was Jonas’ number one point: The Tesla Fremont plant is ‘bustling’ to say the least. Jonas says the plant is operating at a rate of 50 percent above its intended capacity. When Toyota operated the plant prior to Tesla’s takeover, the factory produced 300,000 units per year. However, Tesla is building all four vehicle models at the factory currently. Builds from Fremont remain in North America, unless it is a Model S or Model X vehicle, as this is the only plant that produces Tesla’s flagship models. In Europe, the Model 3 and Model Y are currently produced at Gigafactory Shanghai. However, Gigafactory Berlin is set to begin operation in less than a week, which will provide European customers with Model Y builds initially.
Fremont is operating at a tremendously over-worked rate, which is complicating supply chain management and production at the facility, the note said. “The plant was never designed to produce 450k units (at its peak produced ~300k units before Tesla took it over from Toyota) which was immediately apparent at the tour, ” Jonas wrote. “Tesla does not shy away from the fact the plant is inefficiently designed with 4 assembly buildings, one of which is a tent that cars are assembled in,” in reference to GA 4.5, a sprung structure that Tesla filed to make permanent in 2021.
Additionally, Jonas said that, while the plant has an “exciting buzz,” Fremont is simply running out of space. This “was notable and provides little space for trucks to drop off supplies in locations that make sense inside the plant.”
Combining all of the points Jonas brings up in his note fully supports a recent idea from Musk, who indicated in March Tesla was considering an expansion of the Fremont factory, which is the only operational automotive assembly plant remaining in California. Ford had several in the 1900s, but each has closed.
“Actually, we still operate our California factory, which is the largest auto plant in North America, at full capacity and are considering expanding it significantly,” Musk said on March 2. “It has built 2/3 of all electric vehicles in North America, twice as much as all other carmakers combined.”
While Tesla continues to expand manufacturing by opening new plants, its current factories have an opportunity for expansion. Gigafactory Shanghai, which has been operational since early 2020, has already received plans for its first batch of expanded production lines, according to filings Tesla submitted last year. Fremont is an integral part of Tesla’s operation, contributing nearly 500,000 vehicles annually to Tesla’s global operation. A significant expansion may be what the automaker needs to fulfill increased guidance, supplementing Gigafactory Texas as the plant continues to pump out production units ahead of initial deliveries. Tesla will need some time to get Gigafactory Texas up and running to full capacity, in which case Fremont will continue its exemplary output.
Perhaps Gigafactory Texas can repay the favor in a few years, if Tesla ultimately decides to expand Fremont by a significant margin, as Musk indicated.
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