Tesla has painted itself into a corner with the new Model 3 sedan, the company's first high-volume vehicle. Without a nationwide dealer network, the margin for errors in product development, engineering and manufacturing is zero or close to it.
While Tesla has pioneered over-the-air fixes for software glitches and to update the Model S and Model X, that strategy isn't going to work if the Model 3 leaves the plant with parts that don't fit properly or that break.
With the low-volume Model S and Model X, Tesla sends a truck to collect vehicles that need repairs when the customer is not close to a service center. That plan is impractical for the Model 3, which starts at about $35,000 and has a backlog of at least 325,000 orders. Tesla hopes to be producing 1 million cars a year by 2020.
While the Model 3 has had a typical product development cycle, engineering and manufacturing details about the sedan remain sparse. But the Model 3 launch likely will be among the most scrutinized of any in recent auto industry history.
Looking at the Model 3 from a manufacturing standpoint, nothing can go wrong without costing Tesla immense amounts of cash to rectify.
If a supplier ships a load of bad parts, if a weld is in the wrong place, if a nut or bolt is improperly torqued, if a wire is incorrectly routed, if an assembly line worker installs a part the wrong way, it's going to take hands and time to fix. That is going to be tough for Tesla to do in a timely manner without a nationwide dealer network.
If you look at the automakers producing the highest quality light vehicles today, even they have occasional recalls for minor glitches. If Tesla succeeds in producing the Model 3 in high volumes, everything has to go perfectly 100 percent of the time.
Tesla has beaten the odds to get this far, confounding critics, silencing some skeptics and derailing doubters. But no company has flawless design, engineering and manufacturing, errorless quality control and near-perfect reliability. I doubt Tesla will be the first.