Unbothered by the constraints of space and time, Elon Musk took to Twitter yesterday, breathlessly announcing a press conference for Thursday. Is the call’s topic set to address Model 3 production troubles? Or, perhaps, provide some insight into the supply chain woes at the Gigafactory? No, dear reader, nothing so mundane.
It’s to announce the Tesla semi truck, which is surely the most urgent topic and best use of resources at Tesla these days.
The company is set to unveil its Class 8 semi truck prototype at 8 p.m. (PT) Thursday night at its California facility. Tesla generally livestreams events such as these on its website and YouTube channel.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who will argue that Tesla has the resources to develop and build this truck, pointing out that one part of the company is focused on the truck while the other is concentrating on righting the Model 3 ship. To some extent, they have a point. After all, a human can study for a math test, switch gears to study for the geography final, then return to their sums.
Whether Tesla can do the same remains to be seen. In a tweet Sunday, Elon himself breathlessly promised that the Semi Truck will “blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension.” Mr. Musk is certainly not short on superlatives.
Tesla Semi Truck unveil to be webcast live on Thursday at 8pm! This will blow your mind clear out of your skull and into an alternate dimension. Just need to find my portal gun …
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 12, 2017
The unveiling was originally set for September but was delayed while Tesla attempted to sort out its “production hell” and – to the company’s credit – increase battery production for hurricane-affected regions of the world.
During its last earning reports, in which Musk berated journalists for writing about the company’s layoffs, there was general acknowledgement that supply chain organization is really hard and that production would be back on track in short order.
While the business world, and likely Tesla itself, would love to consider itself a tech company, the reality is that the company is bound by the constraints of vehicle production, whether it likes it or not. A single item (whether it’s the Model 3, S, or a semi) has approximately one bazillion parts, all of which need to arrive and be assembled in a certain order if there’s any chance of the process working smoothly. All it takes is for one single part either not showing up or being out of spec to toss a wrench into the whole works.
Tech companies love to boast about their ability to whip their way through an industry while not following any of the rules. Witness Facebook’s missive of “move fast and break stuff.” Tesla fancies itself in the same vein and, for a while, it certainly was. Now, with sights set on mass production and not the manufacturing of niche vehicles, the realities of the assembly line are hitting the automaker square in the face.
Coordination, not speed, is the killer app when trying to nail down one’s supply chain. The myriad of different players that need to be dancing to the same beat, not racing to the finish line. Once all hands are in step, then (and only then) can the company increase the tempo.
Imagine gathering a group of people who’ve never done the tango before, putting them in a room, and turning the music to maximum. Feet would get stepped on, limbs would flail, and most of the class would likely either quit in frustration or get tossed out before the next lesson. Attempting to accelerate a supply chain from rest to light speed in short order is fraught with similar hazards, as the Tesla team is discovering.
Nevertheless, I’m sure Mr. Musk cares not one whit about my observations of his supply chain and will merrily introduce the Tesla semi truck on Thursday in grandiose fashion. Will it meet production goals? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
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