Elon Musk says don’t buy a Tesla during production ramps for best quality

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Musk sat down with manufacturing expert Sandy Munro for an interview published this week. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk recommended the best time to buy a Tesla in an interview published this week.
  • He said quality tends to be worse at times when Tesla is working to quickly ramp up production.
  • Tesla was building Model 3s so quickly last year that paint wasn’t drying properly, Musk said.
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For years, Tesla has caught heat over quality control issues — whether it’s improperly affixed roofs, loose bolts, or shoddy bodywork — with one of the most vocal critics being Sandy Munro, an auto-manufacturing expert who once likened the build quality of a 2018 Model 3 to a Kia from the 1990s.

In a one-on-one interview with Munro published this week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk fessed up to some of the company’s production hiccups and recommended the best time of year to buy a new Tesla.

Asked how the fit and finish of two Model 3 sedans Munro had examined could be so vastly different — even though they were built only a month apart — Musk admitted that build quality tends to be worse when Tesla is working to rapidly scale up production.

“Friends ask me, when should they buy a Tesla. Well, either buy it right at the beginning, or when production reaches a steady state,” Musk said. “But during that production ramp, it’s super hard to be in vertical climb mode and get everything right on the little details. It’s just a super difficult thing.”

Customers who “really want things to be dialed,” Musk went on, should buy a very early model or one built “once production has leveled off.”


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Last year, and especially in its final months, Tesla pushed hard to deliver 500,000 vehicles, an aggressive sales target that the company missed by only a few hundred cars. But racing to accelerate production came with drawbacks, Musk said.

The CEO told Munro that as Tesla sped up manufacturing, one problem it faced was that “the paint wasn’t necessarily drying enough,” leading to quality issues. He said that Tesla did “improve gap and paint quality quite a bit towards the end of last year, even in the course of December.”

Musk, who tends to be overly optimistic about Tesla’s ambitions, acknowledged in the interview that mass-producing cars is no easy task. A testament to that, he said, is that Tesla is the first US car startup to reach volume production since Chrysler was founded in 1925.

“Prototypes are easy and fun, and then reaching volume production with a reliable product at an affordable price is excruciatingly difficult,” Musk said. “Our production is hell.”