Bozi Tatarevic, an automotive writer based in North Carolina, first spotted indications of Tesla’s production woes back in December by scouring U.S. import records for parts Tesla buys from overseas suppliers. He focused on wheel covers and small 12-volt batteries used to power some of the Model 3 electronics. By dividing the weight of the shipping pallets by the weight of the parts, Tatarevic came up with some upper limits for Tesla’s possible production, which were lower than Tesla forecast at the time.
“If they only have 2,000 of a part,” he explains, “that means they’re only going to be able to produce 2,000 cars with that part until they get the next shipment.”
Tatarevic has driven a Model 3 and has inspected a stripped-down body of the car. He says the fit and finish of the early models wasn’t up to top manufacturing standards, although the car “handled very well” and he found it well-designed. “Overall, if they can figure out how to build it, I think it will be successful.”
Tatarevic made a final guess at Tesla’s total Model 3 output in 2017 that was just a few dozen cars off Tesla’s actual production figure of 2,685. He relied on vehicle identification numbers (VINs), which are registered with safety regulators and displayed on every new car sold in the U.S. Tesla switched a batch of unused VINs it registered in 2017 into 2018 production, signaling precisely how many VINs the company had used by year’s end. It was a once-a-year trick.
The first person to automate a system to collect VIN registrations, which also helps power Bloomberg’s Model 3 Tracker, was Alex Halcomb, a 29-year-old who works in data analytics for a startup in San Francisco. He’s a Tesla investor and reservation holder who has his heart set on a blue Model 3, with the premium upgrades package.