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Manufacturing “Old Timers” Offer Tesla’s Elon Musk Some Sage Advice

Aug. 1, 2017
Technology will play a key role as Tesla moves forward, but so will the lessons of experience.

In the wake of Tesla’s delivery this weekend of its first mass-market car the Model 3, the Internet is awash in speculation over whether the automaker can successfully quintuple its production rate to a half million units by 2018.

Even Tesla itself acknowledged in a May blog post the challenge it is up against: “We are building entirely new vehicles from the ground up, using entirely new technology, production, and manufacturing methods, and ramping them at high volume. Getting this right is extremely difficult.”

Tesla did not respond to our request for an interview. But I can share some insights into what manufacturing professionals think about their plans to enter the mass market and challenges they faced,  based on comments posted on IndustryWeek.

The comments were in response to a recent IndustryWeek article, "Tesla Will Have a Tough Time Ramping up Production. Here's Why," in which business strategy consultant Joe Barkai, laid out an argument for why making cars is hard to do.

The article was among our top-read stories in June, clearly piquing the interest of manufacturing professionals, many of whom can appreciate from first-hand experience the challenges inherent in amping up production volumes.

A key theme that emerged from their observations and advice: Experience may just be the most valuable asset of all.

 “Realizing manufacturing growth is not just some spreadsheet calculation, nor a P&L that satisfies investors. Sustainable manufacturing growth happens when there are robust processes that are continually improved by an empowered workforce. Your most valuable asset is the workforce, your most valuable tool is Lean, and your most important task is safety.”—Thomas Schulz

 ”…We'd LOVE to MENTOR what true LEAN is, however, us old timers are, well, ‘OLD.’ Thomas Schulz is correct, the most valuable asset is the workforce, the most valuable tool is learning and safety is the most important issus. The whole problem is investors who want an immediate return on their investment. So Tesla is going to China?!? Taxpayers have invested too much of our tax money into Tesla for this to happen. It should be forbidden. Suck it up buttercup and hire some old time talent to come in and manage your plant. Better yet, get the h___ out of California and move the plant where skilled labor isn't as costly and who [sic] are willing to work their fanny off to give you quality plus. Go South young men; Go to the Heart of Dixie.”—Expert Lean Guru

Imagine that. Us old timers with experience might actually know a thing or two that these young whippersnappers don't.”-Blueneck

Not everyone saw it as an "us-vs.-them" scenario:

I do not think there is a need to make this an "old timer vs young guy" thing. Experience is invaluable, to be sure. But some of the growing pains that Tesla will experience are pretty much inevitable. If you look at Toyota's (or recently GM's) philosophy for production, it is based on observing, thinking, and improving. By default, you cannot be world class at this right out of the gate…”—COLO LEAN GUY

We'd love your thoughts on Tesla, and the role that experience plays in being good at making lots of cars--and things. Please comment below.

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