New Tesla Model 3: factory suspended output to clear bottlenecks in “production hell”

Production of the new Tesla Model 3 stopped from February 20 to 24, as engineers and factory staff worked to clear bottlenecks in a bid to ramp output up to a planned 2,500 cars a week by the end of March.

The company admitted it had paused production of the Model 3 - for which it has over half a million orders – but said doing so was “not unusual” when factories increased manufacturing rates.

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“Our Model 3 production plan includes periods of planned downtime in both Fremont and Gigafactory 1,” a Tesla spokesman said, adding: “These periods are used to improve automation and systematically address bottlenecks in order to increase production rates. This is not unusual and is in fact common in production ramps like this.”

Tesla founder Elon Musk said in October last year the company was “deep in production hell" and suggested welding issues might be the cause of the Model 3"s missed production target. Aluminium is used for most Teslas, but the Model 3 is mainly made with steel, which could be a factor for the slow production.

This latest delay follows publication of Tesla’s third-quarter financial results in November 2017, which showed the company made just 260 entry-level Model 3s from July to September.

And while the production target for the Model 3 is 2,500 cars a week by the end of March, a figure of 5,000 per week has targeted been targeted for the end of June. Tesla claims it will further increase that figure to a run rate of 10,000 Model 3s a week as production ramps up further.

Due to increased production of the Model S and Model X, Tesla posted net losses of $619 million (£468m) in the three months leading up to 30 September, nearly doubling its Q2 losses. During Q3 last year, they made profits of $21.9 million (£16.6m).

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Tesla Model 3 parking

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A previous press release said the Model 3 was experiencing ‘production bottlenecks’, but stressed there are “no fundamental issues with the Model 3 production or supply chain” and Tesla staff “understand what needs to be fixed and we are confident of addressing the manufacturing bottleneck issues in the near-term.”

Tesla Model 3 "P" performance model

The Model 3 is expected to go on sale in the UK market by 2019. The latest car from the EV firm has only just begun to roll off the production line, but Elon Musk is already openly talking about a range topping, ‘P’ badged performance variant.

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Tesla Model 3 side

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At launch, the Model 3 line-up is two models strong – two rear-wheel-drive options with ranges of 220 miles and 310 miles are offered with moderate performance specs. Tesla claims that the faster of these two cars – the ‘Long Range’ Model 3 - manages 0-60mph in 5.1 seconds and goes on to a top speed of 140mph.

On Twitter, Musk has confirmed that the line-up will grow in the middle of 2018 with a high-performance Model 3. It’s not the first time the Tesla boss has said that we’ll get a hot version of the firm’s entry level car, but rather it places a specific window of arrival on it.

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No further details or specifications have been confirmed, but it’s likely that the Model 3 ‘P’ will take after hot versions of the larger Model S and will be equipped with dual motors, turning it into an all-wheel-drive all-electric performance saloon.

Tesla Model 3: launch specifications and information

In 2006 Tesla CEO Elon Musk published a ’top secret masterplan’ on Tesla’s website. It was low on detail but the groundbreaking electric car company has stuck to it. Tesla, it said, was going to ‘create a low volume sports car, use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price and use that money to create an affordable, high volume car’. 

The Tesla Model 3 is that ‘affordable, high volume car’. It joins the current Tesla range alongside the Model S executive saloon and the Model X SUV and it’s been launched to an audience of Tesla employees and customers at a special event held outside the Tesla factory at Fremont, California. The first 30 customers collected their Tesla Model 3s at the event with Elon Musk revealing that 50 cars had been built so far.

Two core versions of the Tesla Model 3 are being offered from launch, the standard and Long Range models. The standard car comes in at a price of $35,000, that translates as £26,650. The standard Model 3 has a 220-mile range, a 5.6s 0-60mph time and a 130mph top speed but for $44,000 (£33,500) you can have the Long Range model. That car ups the ante with an official range of 310 miles, a 5.1s 0-60mph time and a 140mph top speed. 

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Tesla Model 3 sunroof

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Official UK prices have yet to be announced and it"s expected that the Model 3 entry price will be closer to £35,000 when it arrives in the UK, with that figure then lowered by the £4,500 plug-in car grant. These ballpark figures put the Tesla Model 3 in direct competition with the household names in the European compact executive car market with a BMW 320d opening around the £31,000 mark and the likes of the Audi’s A4, Jaguar’s XE and the Mercedes C-Class coming in at a similar level. The Model 3 looks even more competitive next to other pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids. 

Dimensions and technical details

The Tesla Model 3 is a little bit wider and longer than a BMW 3 Series with a 4,694mm length and  1,849mm width. It’s 1,443mm tall and has a long wheelbase of 2,875mm (the 3 Series’ is 2,810mm)  to help maximise interior space. Most surprising though is the weight with Tesla claiming a kerb weight of 1,610kg that compares well with the 1,475kg of a BMW 3 Series considering the batteries the Tesla needs to haul about.

That weight is distributed with 47 per cent over the front axle and 53 per cent over the rear wheels that deploy the power. All Model 3s are rear-wheel drive from launch but a 4x4 dual-motor version is said to be in the pipeline. There’s a variable, speed sensitive power steering set-up and the suspension system uses double wishbones at the front with an independent multi-link arrangement at the rear end. 

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The curving roofline helps the Model 3 achieve an impressive 0.23 drag coefficient but not at the expense of passenger space. The 5-seat interior has decent leg and headroom but not on the level of the larger Model S and X. In the two luggage compartments, one front and one rear, there’s a total of 425 litres of space. It’s quite a bit less than the 480-litre a 3 Series can get in its boot but there are 60/40 split rear seats to help fit larger loads inside. 

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Tesla Model 3 cabin

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Specifications and Autopilot options

All Tesla Model 3 cars come with a basic specification that includes 18-inch alloy wheels, the spectacular 15.4-inch infotainment screen, dual-zone climate control, wi-fi internet connectivity, keyless entry via your smartphone or a credit card-style key, voice activated controls and the full array of sensors needed to enable autonomous driving. The specification can then be upgraded with a $5,000 (£3,800) Premium pack. This delivers upgraded materials in the cabin with a wood-veneered dash, 12-way electrically adjustable front seats, a 12-speaker stereo upgrade, heated rear seats, and two inductive phone chargers. That panoramic glass ceiling that is such a hallmark of the Model 3"s design is also included in the deal.  

To what extent you can use Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving technology depends on the local laws in your country but Elon Musk says that every car has the hardware to drive itself where the legislation allows, if not the software. This hardware includes 8 cameras, 12 ultrasonic sonar sensors and forward radar as well as the processing power to use all the data. The software to make use of it all comes at a cost though with the Enhanced Autopilot package costing an extra $5,000 and the Full Self-Driving Capability option needing an extra $3,000 on top of that. 

Interior and exterior design details

In terms of exterior design, little has changed compared to the pre-production Tesla Model 3 revealed in March 2016. The Model 3 adopts a more conventional hatchback body, but retains the sleek sloping roofline Teslas has become known for. A larger glasshouse than that seen on the bigger Model S creates a higher roofline, while the sunken bonnet gives it a very distinct profile. 

Appearance-wise, it"s no surprise that the Tesla Model 3 looks like a downsized Model S. With electrical gear taking up so little space, downsizing the Model 3 was mostly a matter of shrinking the ends of the car and shifting the front seats forward to provide more rear-seat room. 

Like other Teslas, the Model 3 offers two boots, front and rear. The Model 3 has no grille, save for a small scoop at the bottom edge of the bumper. While this is no doubt good for aerodynamics, it gives the car a rather unfinished look when seen from the front, although the facelifted Model S and Model X both now have a similar look.

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Tesla Model 3 interior

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The Model 3"s interior is incredibly simple in its design. Musk explained that the design team "aim for a very simple clean design because in the future the cars will be increasingly autonomous. You won’t really need to look at an instrument panel all that often, you’ll be able to do what you want." 

A new three-spoke steering wheel is found on the production car and the dashboard is still sparse, with just a 15.4-inch landscape infotainment screen mounted centrally. Speed and gear selection are displayed in the upper corner of the screen, with a strip of climate controls at the bottom. The rest of the screen real estate is split between the map display and stereo controls.

Unlike other Tesla models, that"s it for instrumentation—in fact, that"s it for anything. Aside from a small squared-off steering wheel, the dash is nothing more than an unadorned strip of black and white, with a centre console bisecting the front bucket seats. It"s the kind of interior we expect to see in a concept car, but Elon Musk has confirmed this is very close to the production version - it"ll remain bare and operated through the central display. 

The Model 3"s rear window extends right up over the roof to the car"s B-pillars, while a large sunroof over the front seats completes the illusion of a nearly-all-glass roof. The glass roof also improves rear-seat headroom, and the front seats have been pushed forward for more legroom. The six-footers riding in the back get legroom that’s acceptable and headroom surprisingly generous.

Tesla Model 3 Ludicrous Mode and supercharger access

Musk has confirmed in a tweet that the Model 3 will be getting Tesla"s "Ludicrous Mode" - a software tweak which unlocks even more potential from the car"s electric drivetrain. When employed on the most powerful Model S, the P100D, it can accelerate from 0-60mph in just 2.3 seconds - although we don"t expect the Model 3 to be quite that fast as it won"t recieve the 100kWh battery pack, again confirmed by Musk on Twitter. 

Tesla"s smallest car won"t come with free Tesla Supercharger access either - the company is ending the practice of allowing new customers to top up for nothing at the stations. Model S and X owners will get Supercharger credits, but any freebies for Model 3 owners look unlikely. 

What do you think of Tesla"s plan to attack the compact executive car market with the Model 3? Can it succeed where so many have failed? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below or join the debate on Twitter and Facebook.