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Should Tesla stop building cars?

Tesla Inc.'s Thursday night reveal of two semis and a new roadster was another celebration of the company's greatest assets: technology, design and branding.

The spectacle and cheers from Tesla fans and employees in attendance appeared to be welcome distractions for CEO Elon Musk, who has been dealing with "manufacturing hell" that has led to significant delays in production and deliveries of the Model 3 sedan — the company's first mass-market product.

Delays and "production bottlenecks" are nothing new for Silicon Valley's automotive darling, but could they have been avoided? What if Tesla had decided to stick with what it's good at and leave the manufacturing to someone else?

It's the formula Apple has executed to great success: designing and engineering captivating products, hiring experienced contract manufacturers to put the pieces together and raking in billions of dollars in profit (vs. roughly $0 for Tesla).

Sure, Apple has encountered a few production hiccups and supply shortages, but they haven't hurt the brand one bit.

And while Musk has pulled all-nighters alongside the factory floor in Fremont, Calif., agonizing over Model 3 glitches, you can bet Tim Cook sleeps soundly in his own bed.

For an automaker, there's no shame in collaborating on manufacturing. Europe's Magna Steyr has assembled vehicles for such exacting clients as BMW and Daimler. In 2015, Daimler turned to Indiana's AM General to manufacture its R-class wagons, freeing up capacity in its Alabama plant. And Tesla's Fremont plant itself was once the home of a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors, two venerable automakers that still found they could learn a thing or two from each other about building cars.

It's unlike a Silicon Valley company to accept that it's not all-knowing, but Musk has been fairly frank about Tesla's struggle to master manufacturing. His answer has been to invest himself even more fully in crafting solutions.

"I've personally been here on the Zone 2 module line at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning trying to diagnose robot calibration issues," he said on a call with investors after the third-quarter earnings report. "I'm doing everything I can."

Entrepreneurs like him may relish that challenge, but investors and customers want to see something else: a Tesla product showing up when it's supposed to. No delays. No excuses.

Other automakers would love to have what Tesla has: a brand that inspires the imagination and ideas that challenge convention. But those other automakers have what Tesla now needs most: experience and expertise in turning big ideas into real products.

It's not too late for Tesla to ask for help with its next-generation vehicles. Other automakers have capacity and knowledge to spare across three continents. Calling on a company such as Daimler, for example, to build Tesla vehicles — everything from the Roadster to the Semi — would allow Tesla to fulfill its grander "master plans" to lead the world toward carbon-free transportation.

And it's definitely not too early to ask for help. The longer Tesla stumbles through its vehicle launches, the more it puts its biggest strengths at risk.

You can reach Michael Wayland at mwayland@crain.com -- Follow Michael on Twitter: @MikeWayland

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