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Tesla claims that Model 3 panel gaps have improved by ‘nearly 40%’

In response to an analysis of the build quality of the Model 3 and harsh critique of its panel gaps, Tesla has issued a statement claiming that the standard deviation of Model 3 panel gaps has improved by ‘nearly 40%’ on average since the start of production last year. Some early Tesla Model 3 owners complained about the build quality of the vehicles – especially those delivered in 2017.

Michigan-based Munro & Associates did a teardown of two early Model 3 production cars and they made a harsh analysis of that build quality.

They said that they have used a car built in January 2018 and another built later, but Tesla claimed the “primary car” used in Munro’s analysis was actually built in 2017.

They shared their findings with MotorTrend and claimed:

“Panel gaps are inconsistent around the same car as well as between cars. Many gaps exceed accepted norms for any price class, though the later car shows signs of improvement. Where the hood meets the left fender on the newer car, the shapes are mismatched, suggesting either a stamping problem or an attempt to bend the hood to match. Shut either front door with the window rolled down, and it rattles. The earlier car also had an extra piece of weather stripping glued to the driver-side front window track. (This was the only example of obvious rework.)”

Several more examples of bad panel gaps have been reported by owners, but it’s hard to gauge if the problem is widespread or only present in a few outliers vehicles.

Electrek’s own Jameson Dow took delivery of a 2017 Model 3 and he was satisfied with the panel gaps – along with many other owners.

With this said, it now looks like there was certainly a lot of room to improve on that front at the time since Tesla has confirmed that the standard deviation of Model 3 panel gaps has improved by ‘nearly 40%’ on average since the start of production:

“Since we began shipping Model 3 last year, we have been very focused on refining and tuning both part and body manufacturing processes. The result being that the standard deviation of all gaps and offsets across the entire car has improved, on average, by nearly 40%, with particular gap improvements visible in the area of the trunk, rear lamps and rear quarter panel. Today, Model 3 panel gaps are competitive with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes models, but in the spirit of relentless improvement, we are working to make them even tighter.”

In a recent email to employees, Tesla CEO Elon Musk also addressed the automaker’s goal to improve on the build quality.

He went as far as saying that the Model 3 “needs to be designed and built with such accuracy and precision that, if an owner measures dimensions, panel gaps and flushness, and their measurements don’t match the Model 3 specs, it just means that their measuring tape is wrong.”

Electrek’s Take

I’m glad to hear that build quality has improved over the last few months and that there’s a continued focus on it, but Tesla’s statement does sound like a confirmation that the Model 3’s build quality was quite subpar early in the production process.

If the standard deviation has improved by 40% over the production ramp up and it is just now “competitive with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes models”, it means that “on average” early Model 3 vehicles were about 40% worse than the competition.

To be fair, most of the very early vehicles went to Tesla employees and company insiders, but I think it’s definitely something that Tesla needs to improve.

I’d say that I’d recommend staying away from Tesla’s early production models, but yet I own an early Model S and I’m happy with it so…

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