Build Fast, Fix Later: Tesla Employees Say 90% Of Model S/X Cars Fail Quality Checks After Assembly

Last month we highlighted a report from Automotive News which suggested that Tesla's Model 3 production misses might have been the result of a rather basic and embarrassing problem...the company hadn't yet figured out how to weld.  As automotive manufacturing consultant Michael Tracy of Agile Group pointed out, the clues of Tesla's steel problems came from a video posted by Musk himself of the Model 3 assembly line.  Referencing Musk's video, Tracy said a well functioning auto assembly line would not produce the sparks seen in the video below which are symptomatic of welds spots overheating or poor alignment of components.

After the Journal report, Musk tweeted a of the Model 3 production line, which was operating at one-tenth of its potential speed. In the video, sparks fly as two robotic arms assemble parts of the vehicle frame. He followed with another on Wednesday, Oct. 11, showing body panel stamping at full speed.


"Resistance welding should make a little smoke, but when you see stuff popping out like that, that's called expulsion," automotive manufacturing consultant Michael Tracy of Agile Group in Howell, Mich., said of the first video. "It's symptomatic of weld spots getting too hot because they're poorly planned, or in this case, the metal not being pulled all the way together."


Poor welds can increase the damage to a vehicle in an accident, and can lead to rattling and squeaking as the car ages, Tracy said.

A post shared by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on Oct 8, 2017 at 3:20pm PDT

And while it's difficult to believe that Tesla hasn't been able to iron out simplistic assembly line issues like the proper alignment of welds, a new report from several current and former employees would seem to lend some credence to Tracy's hypothesis.  As Reuters notes today, interviews with nine "current and former employees" revealed that 90% of all Model S and Model X vehicles that roll off the assembly line fail quality control checks...which compares to roughly 10% for Toyota.

After Tesla’s Model S sedans and Model X SUVs roll off the company’s Fremont, California assembly line, the electric vehicles usually make another stop - for repairs, nine current and former employees have told Reuters.


The luxury cars regularly require fixes before they can leave the factory, according to the workers. Quality checks have routinely revealed defects in more than 90 percent of Model S and Model X vehicles inspected after assembly, these individuals said, citing figures from Tesla’s internal tracking system as recently as October. Some of these people told Reuters of seeing problems as far back as 2012.


Tesla Inc said its quality control process is unusually rigorous, designed to flag and correct the tiniest imperfections. It declined to provide post-assembly defect rates to Reuters or comment on those cited by employees.


The world’s most efficient automakers, such as Toyota, average post-manufacturing fixes on fewer than 10 percent of their cars, according to industry experts. Getting quality right during initial assembly is crucial, they said, because repairs waste time and money.


At Tesla “so much goes into rework after the car is done ... that’s where their money is being spent,” a former Tesla supervisor said.

So what are the key issues being flagged in quality control checks?  Oh, just minor issues like "doors not closing," "missing parts," and "water leaks..."

Defects included "doors not closing, material trim, missing parts, all kinds of stuff. Loose objects, water leaks, you name it," another former supervisor said. "We've been building a Model S since 2012. How do we still have water leaks?"


Quality inspectors would sometimes find more defects than those reported by workers in the internal tracking system when a car came off the line. “We’d see two issues, that’s pretty good. But then we’d dig in and there would be like 15 or 20,” one person said.


One persistently tricky area was alignment, where body parts had to be “muscled,” in the words of the senior manager, to a certain degree of flushness. Not every team follows the same rule book, workers said, resulting in gaps of different size.


Of course, a lack of production efficiency was already crushing Tesla's cash flow so you can only imagine what will happen now that Musk has shifted the company's strategy to focus not on $100,000 super cars but rather $35,000 entry-level vehicles...needless to say, margins on $35,000 vehicles can't support a 90% QC failure rate.

Perhaps this is why it recently took Tesla Model S owner Tyler Martin a full 25 minutes to detail all the defects in his brand new vehicle (see: Angry Tesla Owner Shares 25 Minute Video Detailing Just One Year Of Model S Service Issues)...


shitshitshit Grandad Grumps Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:56 Permalink

well, guy bought a lemon and makes a case about it. There are tons of these, no need to focus on tesla essentially.Unfortunately our civilisation peaked a few years ago and this is why nowadays quality diminishes for everything, healthcare has become so dubious, infrastructures are massively decaying, education so rock bottom, not talking about population that is now reducing despite the massive imports of rapefugees that will never compensate for anything given they cost much much more than what they are supposed to bring in.On top of that every CEO or government representative are lying their ass off at each and every opportunity.Color me surprised. 

In reply to by Grandad Grumps

CPL shitshitshit Wed, 11/29/2017 - 16:14 Permalink

It's part of the business model and unfortunately not the exception for any auto maker.

A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.- fight club

In reply to by shitshitshit

mkkby Klassenfeind Wed, 11/29/2017 - 20:38 Permalink

Reminds me of american cars in the 80s. Uneven gaps between body panels, lots of rattles... sloppy work by careless or pissed off workers. Extremely obvious just looking at fit and finish.

Workers in commiefornia are the worst. Most are either half asleep, drugged or mexicans. If there is a union, you can forget about getting any work done.

In the 80s I bought a toyota after my father's brand new chevy came apart and almost killed him. Lost our family forever. Now I have a 20yo honda that never wants to quit.

I'll take a look at american cars again when they come with 300,000 mile warranties. Other than that, fuck you.

In reply to by Klassenfeind

SDShack Grandad Grumps Wed, 11/29/2017 - 16:22 Permalink

When 90% of finished cars fail QC checks, that means you have systemic manufacturing problems that go way beyond simple quality control analysis like a pareto chart. The entire article tracks with the training I got with my manufacturing engineering degree, along with my 20 years in manufacturing, much of it in quality control. I can tell you that you can never inspect quality in... you can only build it in. If you can't afford to make it right the first time, you sure as hell will never make a profit by reworking it later. Manufacturing/Quality 101.

In reply to by Grandad Grumps

SDShack Dontblamethegoat Wed, 11/29/2017 - 19:27 Permalink

No disagreement here with your terms. But there is never a single all encompassing standard of terminology when it comes to quality, because as your link shows, the pursuit of quality has and is always constantly evolving as new practises are discovered. To me, your quality assurance is what I call Process Control. The reason you use quality inspections/audits is to verify that your process is in control, meaning capable of meeting requirements/specifications.In fact, when I was running a quality department, I developed and implemented what I called a "Closed Loop Quality System". It was closed loop because it started and ended with the Customer Expectation. Each major step along the entire material/order/manufacturing/shipping chain was identified and built with specific processes in place with control points to verify the integrity of the process, as well as idenfify and isolate potential defects to prevent the problem from getting to the next customer downstream in the chain. This is how your build overall quality in, by building it in each step along the chain. This was all done years before ISO9000, 6-sigma, etc. The key is mistakes always happen in manufacturing so it is impossible to eliminate mistakes. Therefore you must design, build, implement, and verify the system through each step of the entire business chain to minimize mistakes from getting from any given point to the next customer down the line. Trying to do anything else, insures that defective material will always get passed on to the next customer down the line, with inevitable business losses.

In reply to by Dontblamethegoat

SJEqualizer SDShack Wed, 11/29/2017 - 18:42 Permalink

Total Quality Management, W. Edwards Deming.  Deming was the American responsible for the Japanese automotive quality revolution.  The US auto manufactures were not interested in what he had to say and suffered immensely due to this fact.90% requiring repairs at the end of the line sounds a lot like the darkest days of GM in the 70s and 80s.A friend used to care a lot about these things where he worked until he realized that the company wasn't serious about learning how to really improve quality.

In reply to by SDShack

CRM114 Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:45 Permalink

Dead company walking; this failure rate with associated costs is unsustainable. It's what killed the British motor industry. Understand that this is a management problem; they either don't understand the processes, can't organise on a large scale, hire the wrong (i.e. cheap and not properly qualified) people, or can't manage staff. Or all of them.With this many errors, one has to look right at the top of the chain at overall strategy and philosophy. My guess from all the other info about Tesla is that they are trying to mass-produce on the cheap, and they either aren't listening to the workers (which is how the Japanese fix these things) or treating them like dirt, or both.

not dead yet CRM114 Wed, 11/29/2017 - 20:19 Permalink

It it wasn't for Musk and his management team Tesla would be a viable car company. The Tesla car is a status symbol for the well to do which is the main reason they buy it. They would buy it at a higher price and they would buy it without the supercharger network and the free charging which costs Tesla huge bucks. Of course they can't do those things now that the junker is out in the wild and buyers expect these things. Then there's the Muskinaters fiasco doors on the X. They also lose their asses on company supplied leases and buying back used Teslas to keep the resale up. A smaller battery factory might have made sense cuz with so many battery manufacturers in the world, and more on the way, to think they would compete for outside business and make a profit is doubtful. Then there is the wasted time and expense developing the big rig and pickup. They could have used the effort and cash to improve the quality of their current offerings and reputation. The current Model 3 fiasco is because Musk was stupid enough to believe his own bullshit that he could go from mules, pre prototypes, to production in 6 months and not have any glitches in the manufacturing process or the final product. Then there's that Solar City fiasco where the whole industry is cutthroat, money losing, and lots of world wide competition. Then there's Musk making money losing bids on solar and battery projects just to get the business and free PR. Instead of contracting for the 3 assembly line they bought their own engineering company. It may have be a good idea, a profit center getting outside business when not making stuff for Tesla, but word has it Tesla is trying to run it like they do their other stuff, all screwed up, instead of letting the experienced mangement do their thing. The end result is a crappy asembly line and they pissed off all the outside engineering business.The competition is going to kill Tesla for other than the obvious reasons. The world is going to SUV's, even the rich, and the Model X is a cobble job that really doesn't qualify as an SUV except in name. The Model 3 should have been a compact SUV. The design of the S and X is long in the tooth, dated, and Tesla doesn't have the cash for a redesign. All they have done so far is gingerbread or bigger batteries and motors. Plenty of cars out there look so similar to the Tesla offerings one has to look, unless your a car buff, for the Tesla symbol to know it is one. Imagine what it does to the ego of a rich buyer when non car buffs, which is most people, complement him on his nice new "KIA". 

In reply to by CRM114

SillySalesmanQ… Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:44 Permalink

How’s the AI Robot welding working out for you Elon...?

In actuality, all one needs, is a competent computer programmer and a decent CNC compensation program. That and making sure everything is in proper alignment... duh

buzzsaw99 Wed, 11/29/2017 - 15:59 Permalink

even the smallest manufacturing shop in the country knows how to do a proper spot weld.  are you telling me that elon the fly to mars and back genius can't even do that right?

bkboy Wed, 11/29/2017 - 16:06 Permalink

At first I found this guy annoying, but only because I have always bought used cars and look past much worse problems than he describes, as all of my beaters still get me to the same destinations as his Tesla gets him.  But then I realized that the people buying these cars are more likely to be just like him than me, and those people are also more likely to complain and share their complaints with others who are thinking about buying a Tesla.So, if this is just an unfortunate lemon, no big deal.  But it appears from other stories that these cars have the same build quality, fit and finish as the late 1960-early 70s American cars.  For a company that is also hemoraging cash, that's not a good thing.

My Days Are Ge… Wed, 11/29/2017 - 16:12 Permalink

We build production machiney in Grand Rapids MI.  Our welders make $24/hour plus benefits and overtime premium.  Our welds must be perfect - otherwise, our machines would fall apart due to 16 hour daily running time and heavy continuous weight transfer.How much does Musk pay his guys.

directaction Wed, 11/29/2017 - 16:12 Permalink

I saw a video a long time ago featuring the East German Trabant's assembly line.At the end of the line a few guys were hammering away on the newly minted Trabants with rubber mallots and prying here and there with 2 x 4s and crobars. Maybe Tesla could use some of those awesome communist workers. I bet they're still unemployed.   

artvandalai Wed, 11/29/2017 - 16:34 Permalink

Oooops. Need to announce something new. So to counter this what should Elon announce?(Hint. The best pick will be whatever Millineals think is the coolest.)a) The rollout of a minivan that can carry 9 kids 800 miles on a chargeb) A plan for the colonization of the bottom of the Mariana Trenchc) Boring a hole through the earth to provide fast transport to Australia