Tesla’s former VP of quality explained the automaker’s unusual approach to testing vehicles in a news article that shows why you should maybe not buy the first batch of new Tesla vehicles.
In the auto industry, Tesla is known for being an outlier in many aspects.
It’s development work and testing is definitely one of those aspects. While most automakers are known to be slow in implementing changes and thoroughly testing vehicles, Tesla has been known for moving much quickly and having much shorter test programs.
Philippe Chain, Tesla’s former VP of Quality, gave some interesting insight into this aspect of Tesla’s business in a new article.
As an example of Tesla’s nimbleness, Chain explained how Tesla managed to modify a part within 5 days of having it failed in an NHTSA test.
Chain, who worked at Renault prior to Tesla and at Audi after, wrote:
“What took a single meeting and five days at Tesla would have required a six-month-long process at Renault or Audi. It would have started with a thorough investigation going back to the source of the error, looking for the person to blame internally, investigating a possible blunder of the supplier, etc. Then, a politically delicate sequence would have unfolded to set up a series of meetings and workshops. Multiple hierarchical strata would have been involved, going up probably to the very top of the organization.”
He believes that this is a theme at Tesla:
“That is the key to the Tesla Way: expedited, value-driven procedures, implemented with a maximum delegation, and a fast decision-making process in a flat structure.”
This mentality of fast decision making and reacting to things as they happen applies to other aspects of the company.
Chain shared a discussion he had about the Model S test program ahead of the production:
“Another good example is the long-term durability evaluation of a car. When I discussed it with Elon, I told him our engineers’ calculations led to at least a million equivalent miles of driving required before launching the car — a six-month phase required to discover potential weaknesses and fix them. My request was actually very limited in regards to the industry practices: German manufacturers don’t release a car that has not clocked 10 million kilometers and two winters. Elon, in his customary laconic way, answered: “OK, do it. But we are not delaying the launch date for it…
— But we might encounter issues that will require some modifications of the production models…
— Yeah, I know, but we will make the changes afterward if we have to…
— Even if it involves recalling some cars?
— Yes. And for the rest, we will adjust by pushing some OTA upgrades (Tesla’s main software is maintained and upgraded remotely on a regular basis, just like a PC).”
The executive said that Musk didn’t care about shipping cars with inconsistent panel gaps that could be fixed later because he believes that consumers will be willing to overlook the quality issue in order to drive the car.
He admits that the approach is sometimes “risky,” but he believes it contributes to Tesla’s “competitive edge.” With the recent launch of the Model Y being affected by quality issues, it might be explained by the approach described by Chain.
This kind of approach shows that it might be smart to not buy a car from Tesla’s early production of a new model and wait until Tesla works through some of those issues. To be fair, that’s also true of many other products, but it seems to be particularly the case with Tesla’s.
With that said, Elon has been mostly right so far. For the most part, Tesla buyers have been willing to mostly overlook those issues because they love the cars.
The big question is that can this last as Tesla becomes more mainstream and its userbase moves beyond early adopters. I am skeptical about that.
Though I think the game plan is clear. Tesla believes that they can fix those issues over time, but the most important thing to beat the competition is the pace of innovation. In short, the pace of innovation takes priority over quality in a big at Tesla.
What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.
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