How Did G.M. Create Tesla’s Dream Car First?

ORION TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Ten years ago, a little-known tech entrepreneur named Elon Musk published a secret master plan for Tesla Motors, an ambitious electric car start-up he had funded.

Revolutionary technologies always start as impractical and expensive, Mr. Musk explained, so Tesla’s first car would be a two-seat roadster that sold for $110,000. But by plowing profits from that car into research and production capacity, Mr. Musk promised that Tesla would quickly create a series of cheaper cars in higher volumes, all toward an almost mythical aim: creating a long-range electric car that could travel more than 200 miles on a single charge, but that cost less than $40,000 for the privilege.

This year, Mr. Musk’s white whale — a car that will get 238 miles per charge, and will sell for about $30,000 after a federal rebate — will finally make it to the roads. Mr. Musk’s master plan has gone exactly as he promised, except for one tiny hitch.

A first affordable long-range electric car, which I drove last month and which blew my mind, is not a Tesla. I had to fly from Silicon Valley to Detroit to drive it because the vehicle was invented not by a celebrated start-up, but by that hoariest cliché of tarnished American manufacturing glory, Chevrolet, which is owned by General Motors.

The car is the Chevy Bolt EV, a squat, wedge-shaped compact hatchback. It is an important car for G.M., and, in a larger sense, for the traditional auto industry. It demonstrates the seriousness with which automakers are taking the threat posed by start-ups that are promising to alter everything about the car business. Not only is the Bolt the first inexpensive long-range electric on the road, but it will also function as G.M.’s platform for testing new models for ride-sharing and autonomous driving.

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Another worry is that Tesla will hit its production targets, but only by skimping on quality. Over the last few decades, in a project first started by Toyota, global car manufacturers have greatly reduced defects using production systems that let workers slow down the line when they spot mistakes. Edward Niedermeyer, an analyst who edits the industry site Daily Kanban, said Tesla has departed from those methods to speed up its line.

As a result, its cars have been afflicted by poor reliability. Last year, Consumer Reports stopped recommending the Model S after a survey showed that customers’ cars were plagued by squeaks, rattles, leaks and various other problems.

“If you don’t have quality right, you start building cars really quickly, and then a defect happens, and you can’t stop yourself from producing hundreds or thousands of defective vehicles,” Mr. Niedermeyer said.

Tesla’s line is still so slow! Quality is a way of life at Toyota and Honda. Once they have a quality component they re-use it on many models. It’s invisible to the customer, but the motors that control power windows and seats are all the same. They do stuff like that, so designing new cars is faster too.

At least this Bolt looks decent. The other EV vehicles outside of Tesla looks like terrible. Hello Leaf and BMW i3

Wait, when did GM become known for quality, RELIABLE cars???

Geez, my commuter 1991 Honda CRX Si gets over 30 mpg highway still to this day. A 25 year old car!!! Old Hondas are bulletproof!!!

I have friends that work at Tesla/have left the company and talk about how ridiculously it is run - pretty much anything Elon asks for they have to jump through hoops to get and there is no asking why or challenging anything…sounds like a really dysfunctional company

is called dictatorship.

Sounds like a lot companies with founder/CEO.

I am curious about this. I am not in manufacturing so this is purely a layman’s view. Generally speaking it tends to cost a lot more to fix a problem in the field (when product is in the hands of a customer) than the profit the manufacturer makes on the product, so selling a product with known defects is financial suicide (unless you don’t care about your reputation). From the quoted text above if there are issues with cars that workers have already spotted, that car cannot go out because it will only mean more troubles down the road. I would’ve thought that modern manufacturing process should have already fixed these low-hanging fruits (defects that you can detect during the manufacturing process, maybe you can’t avoid them, but you can stop them from causing more financial damage), and are focusing on reliability defects that you cannot detect. If tesla is still at the low-hanging fruit level as described, it’s actually good news that there are still easy problems to solve to bring the margins up.

I think that’s management’s choice. Which is more important to their jobs? Is it cranking out the insane number of cars your founder repeatedly told Wall St? Or slow down and have Musk yell or even fire you?

So far Tesla has managed to keep its aura in the face of these issues. I think it’s because people tend to treat it as a 2nd or even 3rd car. It’s an expensive toy and status symbol, so you put up with it. If it breaks down you just drive the boring Camry to work.

Well, Musk finally gets it. It’s what I’ve been saying for a long time.

“The biggest epiphany I’ve had this year is that what really matters is the machine that builds the machine, the factory,” he said. “And that this is at least two orders of magnitude harder than the vehicle itself.”

Now can they execute on it.