This week, I tagged along with my friend, who took delivery of his Model S at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California. (The lucky bastard already owns a Roadster Sport.) As a part of the pick-up, he (and his plus one) are entitled to a tour of the factory.
Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed in the factory. The lede photo was actually taken in the customer waiting room. The image is plastered on one of the walls. So what did I see and what did I learn from the tour?
- The rolls of aluminum for the body are from Alcoa’s factory in Iowa. The largest roll we saw, which was not really that big at all, cost $30,000.
- A huge hydraulic press stamped out the aluminum body parts. It is four stories high above ground and three stories below ground. It is the largest in North America and the 6th largest in the world. We saw it stamping the hatchback lid. A mechanical press’s closing speed would be too high and would break the piece in two. With the slower but more powerful hydraulic press, difficult shapes can be made.
- The NUMMI factory where Tesla is located is 3/4 of a mile long. Only 25% of the space is used. There is a small test track for NVH testing indoors. It is the only indoor test track because the cars are zero emissions.
- The basement has tunnels large enough for semi trucks to come in and to pick up the discarded aluminum pieces. Those pieces are recycled.
- The workers are not unionized.
- Many workers moved around the factory via bicycles and one used a skateboard.
- Currently, 40 cars are assembled a day. In 2010, just before NUMMI closed, GM/Toyota built 6,000 cars a week there.
- The plant has its own water treatment plant and electrical grid.
- The plant was worth $1 billion. It was sold to Tesla for $42 million.
- The robots can take off their own arms/tools by themselves and attach other arms/tools by themselves.
- The battery is thin and flat and serves as the undercarriage of the car, giving it extra rigidity.
- Replacement batteries range in price from $12,000 to $16,000.
- The final inspection is done on a bamboo floor. It provides contrast so that imperfections to the body can be more easily detected.
- Some of the parts are sourced from Mercedes and Toyota.
After the tour, a rep spent the better part of an hour going over all the features of my friend’s car. It was quite a tutorial.
Keep in mind that the battery is flat, four inches thick, and encompasses the entire undercarriage of the car. So there is plenty of storage space up front, in the back, and in the passenger compartment. The only fluid that is needed is windshield wiper fluid.
My only real gripe about the car is the door handle. Normally, it sits flush. In order to open the door, the handle has to slowly pop out first. It just seems like extra work for a basic function. Also, the handle shows finger smudges easily.
The interior is a bit spartan for a luxury car competitor. Don’t get me wrong. The materials and fit-and-finish are fine. It’s just a bit minimalist.
What is not spartan is the ginormous center screen. It’s beautiful, intuitive, and controls everything from steering wheel resistance to sunroof controls to your phone’s contact list.
During the tutorial, the plug was momentarily stuck on more than a few occasions. But I think with a bit more practice and finesse, it won’t be an issue. A full charge is good for 270 to 300 miles.
The Model S is large on the outside. The interior space is probably comparable to a mid-sized sedan. From this 3/4 rear angle, it sort of reminds me of the Lexus GS. The Tesla sedan weighs a not insignificant 4,600 pounds. And it doesn’t even have a spare tire!
My friend graciously allowed me to put the first 20 miles on his car. We drove up and down Interstate 880, a straight and level road. The acceleration was linear, impressive, and quiet. He got the 85 kW-h model, which is good for 360 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. I did notice quite a bit of wind noise through the completely closed front windows at 80 miles per hour.
I was not able to truly test how the car handled, other than using some on- and off-ramps. The height-adjustable air suspension was a perfect balance between comfort and sportiness. Overall, driving the Model S reminded me of the BMW F10 530i.
There’s no question that the Model S is an important car. With tax and registration, this car cost a bit over $90,000. That does not take into account the over $15,000 in federal, state, and local tax credits that my friend is entitled to. So will it be a commercial success? And perhaps more importantly, can Tesla turn a profit and thrive?
Images source: Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jim Yu