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Tesla patents new clamping system to help with panel gaps

One of the biggest complaints that Tesla has received over the years is about the abnormally large panel gaps that are sometimes visible on its vehicles.

Now the company has applied for a patent on a new clamping system that could help with the panel gap issue.

Tesla explains the need for a new clamping system in the patent application released last week:

“In many applications including, but not limited to, automobiles, a number of parts it is desirable to allow one or more degrees of freedom in movement between parts to allow for securing in a desirable way that increase the aesthetic appearance of the final assembly, especially when one or both parts are flexible or otherwise manufactured with a large tolerance in the dimensional limits. For instance, the clamping of an electric vehicle’s front-trunk space (or “frunk”) formed from a plastic to a fender or another adjacently located panel requires a degree of freedom to allow the panel and the frunk to move relative to one another in at least one direction during assembly. However, traditional designs of clamps are not well suited to this or similar applications.”

According to the filing, Tesla’s solution is a clamping system that enables some wiggle room for adjustment while keeping the panels linked together.

Dylan Cox, who was a long time Tesla mechanical design engineer until he left for Amazon last year, is credited with the invention.

The system is described in the patent application:

“The clamping assembly has a retainer member having a groove therein, the groove extending linearly in a first plane disposed angularly with respect to a second plane intersecting the nose portion and defining a pair of open ends located in the first plane. The clamping assembly also has a tab member, the tab member adapted to be received within the groove of the retainer member via one of the pair of open ends of the groove, wherein the tab member is adjustable in position within the groove along the first plane.”

According to the automaker, it would allow the panels to be adjusted to a greater degree while staying firmly attached.

Here are a few drawings that Tesla submitted with the application:

It’s unknown if Tesla already started using this clamping method or if they intend to, but the panel gap issues seem to have been mostly fixed for the Model 3.

In the early production of all of Tesla vehicles, it was often an important issue and the Model 3 was no exception.

Owners often shared on social media pictures of vehicles with less than acceptable panel gaps at delivery, but that mostly stopped earlier this year.

In April, Tesla said 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 an email sent to employees around that time, 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.”

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