(p. B1) This was Mr. Hunter’s big moment: His team had scheduled 1,700 people to pick up their Model 3s in the coming days—a record—and he was proud to announce the achievement. The compact Model 3 was Mr. Musk’s bet-the-company shot at transforming Tesla into a mainstream auto maker and ushering in a new era of electric vehicles—and at that moment, Tesla needed to move thousands of them to stay afloat.
Mr. Hunter had set a record, but Mr. Musk wasn’t happy. The Tesla chief executive ordered Mr. Hunter to more than double the number the next day or else he’d personally take over.
There was more. Mr. Musk said he’d heard that Mr. Hunter’s team had been relying on phone calls to schedule car pickups. That stopped now. Nobody likes talking on (p. B6) the phone, Mr. Musk said; it takes up too much time. Text customers instead. That would be faster. If he heard about any calls being made the next day, Mr. Hunter was fired.
Mr. Hunter’s wife and children had only recently joined him in Las Vegas; they had just finished unpacking their boxes. Now Mr. Musk was threatening to fire him if he didn’t do the impossible in 24 hours.
Tesla was 15 years old, and it was running out of time and money.
. . .
The sales organization didn’t have hundreds of company cellphones that Mr. Hunter’s sales team could use to send text messages, as Mr. Musk demanded, and they didn’t want their employees using their own personal phones.
Overnight, Mr. Hunter and other managers pieced together a solution, employing software that allowed his team to text from their computers. They stopped the practice of walking customers through the reams of sales paperwork that would eventually need to be completed and signed. If Mr. Musk’s goal was to have people in a queue to pick up their cars, then that’s what they would do. They’d just start assigning pickup times for customers: Can you come in at 4 p.m. on Friday to get your new Model 3?
Often, Mr. Hunter didn’t even wait for any response before putting a customer on the list for pickup. If the customer couldn’t make it, she might be told she would lose her spot in line for a car that quarter. Customers became more motivated to complete the tedious paperwork needed to complete a sale when there was a Model 3 dangled in front of them. Mr. Hunter’s team began telling customers to have it all completed 48 hours before delivery.
The team raced through their list of customers, assigning times at pickup centers around the U.S. By 6 p.m. the next day, they had reached 5,000 appointments. Mr. Hunter gathered the team to thank them for their work. He fought back tears. He hadn’t told them that his job was on the line; all they knew was that it was super-important to schedule a bunch of deliveries. That night on the call, Mr. Hunter reported the results to Mr. Musk.
“Wow,” Mr. Musk said.
. . .
As the clock ticked down to the end of September  and Tesla’s outrageous sales goal seemed out of reach, Mr. Musk turned to Twitter to make an unusual request to his loyal customers: Help us deliver vehicles.
Longtime owners showed up at stores around the country. They focused on showing customers how to operate their new cars, and explained life with an electric vehicle, freeing up paid staff to handle the overflow of paperwork. Mr. Musk and his new girlfriend, pop musician Grimes, worked at the Fremont delivery center, joined by board member Antonio Gracias. Mr. Musk’s brother, Kimbal, also a member of the board, showed up at a store in Colorado. It was truly an all-hands-on-deck moment. Surrounded by friends and kin, Musk seemed at his happiest, one manager recalled: “It was like a big family event…. He likes that—he likes loyalty.”
The company was ready to tabulate the quarter’s final delivery results. It was close. Deliveries reached 83,500—a record that exceeded Wall Street’s expectations but that was more than 15% shy of the internal goal of 100,000. (It was also uncannily close to the estimate by the head of customer experience, who had seemingly been ousted for suggesting it.) Almost 12,000 vehicles were still en route to customers, missing the deadline for the third quarter.
For the full essay, see:
Tim Higgins. “The Race to Rescue Tesla.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 31, 2021): B1 & B6.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the essay has the date July 30, 2021, and has the title “Elon Musk’s ‘Delivery Hell’.”)
The essay quoted above is based on Higgins’s book:
Higgins, Tim. Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century. New York: Doubleday, 2021.