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Tesla Factory Tour And Model S Test Drive

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

Currently there are "33 comments" on this Article:

  1. Tanshanomi says:

    Slightly off topic V.I.S.I.T. report: Saw my first Fisker Karma out on the road. My wife and I were riding our motorcycles through an upper-middle-class subdivision when it passed us going the opposite way.

  2. SSurfer321 says:

    Excellent and informative write-up. Thank you.

    One quick question, as I noticed the 3G data coverage indicator in the dash: Does it cost an extra $10 to add your Tesla Model S to your wireless carrier? And why only 3G?

  3. Mad_Science says:

    In a lot of ways, the Model S is the only executive sedan that I'd seriously consider paying $60-100k for.

    Anything else I can basically duplicate in a 2-5 year old example of the same model for half price, but not this.

    If I had a short, traffic-y commute and the ability to charge at work, this would make a lot of sense.

    • mdharrell says:

      A Model S has shown up recently in the parking garage on campus. There's no charging station for it, but I've noticed a Corbin Sparrow in a different part of the garage plugged into a conventional outlet. I haven't seen the Tesla doing that yet.

      I also haven't figured out whether the driver of the Model S is the same person who occasionally parks a Tesla Roadster in the same part of the garage. I haven't seen both at the same time, though, which is at least suggestive.

    • jeremy![™] says:

      a friend of ours works for tesla, she invited us to see the model s in santa monica. my wife was swoon.
      she has little interest in almost every currently on sale, but the whole ride home and into the next day she was telling me about how amazing the car was. she said its the only car she wants to buy.

    • Oh noooo…. Hooniversal Uberlords, hoons considering to buy an eletrical car. Yes I´m starting to believe we will not make it till saturday.

  4. dukeisduke says:

    I think the pop out door handles could become a problem. How do long do they take to pop out, and who wants to wait for them when it's raining? Also, what happens to them when there's a coating of ice on the car?

  5. Van_Sarockin says:

    Very cool. I hope this works out very well for your friend. 4,600 pounds pretty damn heavy. but a 250+ mile range is up in the 'works for almost everyone' category. Two trunks is also cool. And given Musk's other interests, the Nav screen and software is what it should be. All in all, it's an impressive effort for a fledgling US automaker.

  6. Scandinavian Flick says:

    Thanks for the writeup on this! That was a pretty awesome opportunity. My best friend works at the Palo Alto plant for Tesla, and he got to tour the NUMMI factory and ride in a Roadster as part of his training. I really like the Model S. Every time I see one though, I almost don't notice it, since its styling, while clean and sharp, doesn't stand out that much. I see that as a good thing.

    While the history of Tesla isn't the greatest… I do hope they succeed.

  7. rwd guy says:

    While shopping with the girlfriend on sunday there was a tesla S in the parking lot. When we came out of the store it was still there and a tesla business card on the drivers window with THANKYOU written on the card!

  8. K5ING says:

    That 3G means that the car is always connected. I spent some time on YouTube last weekend watching lots of Tesla S videos, and it's amazing. They also show some of the manufacturing in the Tesla plant.

    Another amazing thing involves updating. With the 3G on, owners said it wasn't unusual to come out in the morning and find that your car has some new or improved functions that were updated overnight. For example, the door handles everyone complains about can be changed to only retract when the car reaches, say, 10mph instead of being retracted all the time. Are you listening, Tesla?

  9. mr. mzs zsm msz esq says:

    <img src="http://image.motortrend.com/f/features/consumer/1206_temple_of_tesla_touring_elons_factory/38156258+w650+h406+cr1+ar0/Tesla-checking-fixture-with-Model-S-decklid.jpg"&gt; That is an impressive stamping, and from aluminum. That lower long and wide back part is hard to not mess-up. Here's my favorite impressive single piece stamping though ;) <img src="http://image4.jcwstatics.com/sku/images/small/I_1064378_SW_4.jpg"&gt;

    • Jay says:

      Is that an 850 hood?

      • mr. mzs zsm msz esq says:

        Yes, I just noticed that the VW super lux car has same key fob as my '03 Golf, I love that Phateomyum even more now!

        • Maxichamp says:

          It's like we're brothers!

          • mr. mzs zsm msz esq says:

            You might dig this, I think there was a long standing battle of sorts between Volvo and Mercedes with their hoods. The Amazon hoods opened way-up, the Mercedes ones then too. Then all through the years this stalemate like that, then the grille at some point went-up as well with the hood on the Mercedes, so for a while the Mercedes had upper hand, but then the 850 hood arrived, and unlike the Mercedes one where the grill part was a separate part welded on, it was all one piece on the Volvo. I really think this was when Volvo decided to go all in on luxury angle. Anyway, you might be just the guy to research this in detail!

            Also, I sold that Golf couple years back. Still dig your silly great car though.

  10. jeepjeff says:

    I'm pretty sure they're completely full of shtuff on that "biggest press claim". As, I am certain the biggest one in the country is operated by their aluminum supplier and lives in Cleveland, OH. Source: http://atomictoasters.com/2012/02/big-complicated

    (And yes, the Fifty is still up and running. Our airplane and defense industries rely on it.)

    • Van_Sarockin says:

      Ummm, Jim did say that it was the 6th largest. Not your personal possession Gigantor. So woohoo for you. Since you ask, no, I wouldn't like to have any less stamping capacity. FYI for your town: It's better if you can figure out what to do, when it doesn't involve smacking big pieces of metal.

      • jeepjeff says:

        From the article above:

        It is the largest in North America and the 6th largest in the world.

        I'm pretty sure Cleveland is in North America. IIRC, there's another 50,000 ton press in the North East as a back-up and, IIRC, Russia has at least one 88,000 ton press, and a couple smaller than that. There's a lot of competition to be #6 worldwide.

        (And I understood that claim as Jim reporting on what the tour guide told them, so I'm not calling Jim out, so much as Tesla. Also: I'm in Oakland, CA, so the NUMMI plant is the one in my backyard.)

        • Maxichamp says:

          I have not confirmed it independently. I merely re-stated what the tour guide told me!

          • jeepjeff says:

            That is exactly what I thought you had done (and an entirely reasonable thing to do, particularly since the source of the claim was obvious from context) and the 'they' in my original comment was meant to be Tesla, not you.

  11. Emil says:

    does anyone want be my sponsor, to create an electric car which can go at least 25000 km at the moment in switched ignition on, withaot turning off? contact with me, and we maka a deal

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