In a rare interview – and the first with automotive industry veteran and vehicle “tear-down” expert Sandy Munro –Musk was surprisingly candid about where Tesla could make improvements and promised the company would do better as it matured and ramped up production to a more stable level.
On the YouTube channel hosted by Sandy Munro – a former manufacturing expert with big name car companies who now runs a business which pulls apart cars to find out how much they cost to manufacture and how they were built – the interview with Musk starts with a nervous comment from Munro about build quality, and the backlash he received from Tesla fanatics.
After Munro described an example of a Tesla Model 3 having different panel gaps on each side of the car, Musk said candidly: “I thought your criticisms were accurate”.
Munro said he noticed some Tesla cars had better quality than others.
Musk then continued: “It took us a while to kind of iron out the production process, especially during a production ramp up.”
Musk revealed that when friends ask him when is the best time to buy a Tesla, he says “either buy it right at the beginning or when production reaches a steady state”.
“But during production ramp (up),” said Musk, “it’s super hard to be in vertical climb mode and get everything right on the little details … it’s just a super-difficult thing.”
Musk said Tesla improved paint quality “quite a lot towards the end of last year and even in the course of December”.
“One of the things that was happening when we were ramping (up) production … the paint wasn’t necessarily drying fast enough,” Musk said. “If (the production line moves) faster … it’s like you just discover these things.”
He said before the production line sped up, the paint had an extra one or two minutes to dry.
But without that extra time, the paint “was more prone to have issues”.
After saying that was “just one example”, Musk said “production is hell”.
In his defence, Musk said Tesla is the first American start-up car company in 100 years to achieve volume production.
“Prototypes are relatively easy and fun [to build]… but reaching volume production with a reliable product at an affordable price is excruciatingly difficult,” said Musk.
Munro, who is in the middle of a cross-country test drive in a Tesla Model 3 his company purchased for evaluation, described problems with the vehicle’s current self-driving autopilot technology.
However, Munro raved about the next generation of the tech, after being given a sneak preview by a Tesla engineer during a test drive.
Munro compared Tesla’s next generation of self-driving technology to fighter planes.
“I’ve never ever seen anything quite like what you’ve got in the new self driving (tech).
"This is just absolutely brilliant,” said Munro.
“This should get into (showrooms) as fast as possible,” he continued. “It’s much more accurate than what we have in the Model 3. This will save more lives than airbags, seatbelts and anything else that anybody else has ever (invented).”
“I was so impressed I couldn’t believe it,” gushed Munro. “I want the rest of the world to know what the new standard is. In the (automotive) world some people are going to win, some people are going to lose, and some people are just going to fade away.”
In response Musk revealed Tesla developed both the hardware and the software and said “we’ve got a lot of talented people” – many of whom work across both Space X and Tesla.
Following concerns about the ability of autonomous cars to “read” the road and difficult traffic conditions – and amid accusations that Tesla pushes the boundaries of technology – Musk gave a surprising response:
“For self-driving (technology), even if the road is painted completely wrong and a UFO lands in the middle of the road, the car still cannot crash and still needs to do the right thing,” said Musk.
“The prime directive for the autopilot system is ‘don’t crash’. That really over-rides everything, no many what the lines say or how the road is done … minimise the probability of impact while getting you to your destination conveniently and comfortably.”
Musk said while it would “certainly be helpful to have roads with accurate markings” the car needs to be smarter than that.
“For self-driving, it’s got to be even if someone tries to trick the car (that) they do not succeed in tricking the car, because people will do weird things, it’s got to be maintain safety no matter what … don’t let yourself (Tesla autonomous tech) get tricked.”
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW BELOW: