Tesla’s Process Innovation May Be Low-Defect, Fast-Assembly

(p. A13) Tesla became a darling of government handouts, with tax credits and public funding galore. It quickly grew into a sales phenom with high prices but low volume. Then, this year, its production numbers started to match those of the other major manufacturers. How Mr. Musk achieved this—and whether he should be considered a visionary or a charlatan—is the subject of “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors,” by the automotive journalist Edward Niedermeyer.

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The book hits its stride when the author details Mr. Musk’s attempts to revolutionize the way cars are built. DeLorean and others faltered due to their inability to roll out large numbers of vehicles at a decent level of quality. Likewise the assembly line has been Tesla’s biggest obstacle. For a generation, automakers have cleaved to Toyota’s system of production, which emphasizes reducing waste and defects, slowing down the assembly line to achieve these goals. Mr. Musk, in contrast, feels Teslas should be assembled with a fast-moving line, deploying robots where other carmakers have employed workers.

Many observers bet that fast assembly won’t work. But this year Tesla delivered an impressive 158,000 cars to customers in the first two quarters, about the same number of Lexus models sold in the U.S. during that same period. Low-defect assembly was the major innovation of the automotive industry a generation ago; fast-line assembly may be the next. If Tesla’s fast-produced vehicles turn out to be reliable, Mr. Musk will deserve plaudits.

. . .

The portrait of Elon Musk that emerges from this book is one of a social-media obsessive who is constantly overpromising, playing the role of the self-sufficient business person while relying on government favors. Still, Tesla facilities produce lots of actual cars, which is more than what most other one-man marques have achieved. The accomplishment may not be as grand as Mr. Musk would like us to believe: He couldn’t have built his cars without subsidies from taxpayers who cannot afford Teslas and were given no choice in funding playthings for the rich. But his is an achievement, nonetheless.

For the full review, see:

Gregg Easterbrook. “BOOKSHELF; A Revolutionary Old Product.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 27, 2019, and has the title ” BOOKSHELF; ‘Ludicrous’ Review: A Revolutionary Old Product.”)

The book under review is:

Niedermeyer, Edward. Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc., 2019.

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