Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla. (Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg)

Elon Musk Is Back to Sleeping at the Factory

(Bloomberg) -- Tesla’s Model 3 production “hell” continues. 

Elon Musk, in a testy Twitter exchange, said he is “back to sleeping at the factory” while trying to fix production delays with the Model 3 electric car. It’s a move reminiscent of Tesla’s last vehicle launch—the Model X—when Musk famously kept a sleeping bag near the production line so he could immediately address any hiccups. 

“Car biz is hell,” Musk said. 

The posts on Twitter came as investors await Tesla’s first-quarter production numbers, which are expected to fall short of company forecasts. The exchange, with a reporter at the Information, a tech and business news site, followed a story by the outlet that Musk had taken over Model 3 production from Tesla’s head of engineering, Doug Field.  

For the past year, Field has managed engineering of both the vehicle and its production. Musk said Field had originally been tasked with both jobs to ensure Tesla doesn’t design cars that are “crazy hard to build,” but now that the company was back in the thick of production, “it’s better to divide and conquer.”

Tesla Inc. is under enormous pressure to build the Model 3 fast enough to meet customer demand—and to bring in revenue to offset billions of dollars spent preparing for its rollout. An experimental tracking model developed by Bloomberg estimates that Tesla was able to produce 9,285 Model 3s for the quarter and achieved a final burst of production of as many as 2,200 cars a week. Musk had vowed to reach 2,500 a week by the end of the first quarter—a target that was already scaled back from a prior forecast of 5,000 a week by the end of 2017.

Tesla has built up a die-hard fan base, with some half a million people putting down $1,000 reservations for the Model 3 since it was unveiled two years ago. But the company is still trying to prove it has what it takes to be a true mass-production company. Tesla reports production and delivery results within a few days of each quarter ending.

When Tesla rolled out the Model X in late 2015, it was years behind schedule, and production was marred by problems with its complicated falcon wing doors, custom mono-post rear seats and other unique new high-tech features. Musk told investors in 2016 that he kept a sleeping bag on hand and moved his desk to wherever the factory problems were most troublesome. 

It’s not clear where Tesla’s current bottlenecks reside. During a first-quarter earnings call, Musk said the primary holdup was with robots at the company’s battery Gigafactory near Reno, Nevada. A new production line had been built for it at Tesla’s Grohmann Automation labs in Germany and was scheduled to be installed at the Gigafactory last month. If Musk is instead camping out at the automaker’s Fremont, California, car factory, that would suggest his attention has shifted away from the batteries to car assembly. Tesla wants to double production in the next three months, to 5,000 cars a week. Fremont is where that will, or won’t, happen.  

Even if Tesla reaches its first-quarter production target, it’s not clear whether the company will be able to sustain and build off of it. According to Musk’s latest posts on Twitter, the company hasn’t emerged from production hell just yet.

See the final estimates from Bloomberg’s Model 3 Production Tracker.

To contact the author of this story: Tom Randall in New York at trandall6@bloomberg.net.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.