The author draws analogies to the bad old days of the US auto industry, where shipping was more important than shipping it right:
The idea that Silicon Valley could reinvent the auto sector the way Apple reinvented mobile phones is an appealing one, and by some metrics Tesla has done just that. The Silicon Valley automaker’s distinctive product features — blistering performance, long-range batteries and slick touchscreen interfaces –have beguiled legions of fans and investors, giving the impression that the future of the auto industry had suddenly arrived.
But recent reports call that glowing future into question. After 15 years, it’s increasingly clear that Tesla has nothing to offer in the area that, as the tech analyst Horace Dediu puts it, is where “almost all meaningful innovation occurs”: the production system.
Throughout its history, Tesla has been plagued by poor manufacturing quality and missed production deadlines. And now, CNBC’s Lora Kolodny has the scoop on Tesla operations tasked with “reworking” and “remanufacturing” poor quality cars and parts, illustrating a deeper problem than the poor quality itself. By reworking vehicles after they come off the line at its Fremont, California, assembly plant at a dedicated remanufacturing facility in nearby Lathrop — and even reportedly in its service centers — Tesla is taking automotive manufacturing back to dark ages.
Once upon a time, this was the standard practice for Detroit’s automakers. Driven by logic derived from Henry Ford’s manufacturing system, U.S. automakers kept production cranking in order to maximize efficiencies of scale, and then repaired defective cars after they rolled off the line. Though many factors contributed to the decline of the Big Three in the 1970s and 80s, the inefficiency and apathy entrenched in company culture by this approach to quality was one of the most important.
In contrast, Toyota’s cars may not have had the dramatic, chrome-draped designs or V8 performance of American competitors, but the legendary Toyota Production System (also known as TPS, or “lean”) did away with rework, and its dependable, high-quality cars eviscerated Detroit’s market share. By systematically eliminating all forms of waste — “muda” — from its manufacturing, Toyota found that both capital efficiency and quality benefited enormously from building cars right the first time.
Tesla seems either uninterested in or oblivious to the historical lesson here. On last quarter’s earnings call, chief executive Elon Musk told analysts that Tesla doesn’t see TPS as a model for his company, even as he reiterated his goal of “productizing” Tesla’s factories.
Manufacturers have learned that it’s better to get it right the first time over the past few decades, computer programmers, not so much.
Hence we see the bloated software that is as full of bugs as it is full of new features that no one really needs.
Rinse, lather, and repeat, and we have Elon Musk’s Tesla.