It is no secret that some auto analysts, investors and journalists view Tesla CEO Elon Musk as something of a tech world P.T. Barnum, the famed circus showman with a silver tongue and gift for parting fools from their hard-earned cash. One might say the brash executive playfully embraces this caricature.
But there's one area where Musk can't hide behind jokes or outsized projections: inside the blood and guts of his vehicles.
On Wednesday, the Automotive Press Association hosted an event at a metro Detroit reverse-engineering firm to get a look at a stripped-down Tesla Model 3. Munro & Associates, whose chief, Sandy Munro, panned the fit and finish of the Model 3 on "Autoline Daily," specializes in competitive cost analysis of vehicles for its clients. The company's experts offered their take on the Model 3's engineering and design, and some aspects of the vehicle betray clues to the personality of the startup's founder.
Sound ridiculous? Take, for instance, Tesla's ego-driven practice of emblazoning its logo on components that, for the vast majority of its cars, will never see the light of day. Or Tesla's practice of naming chipset control units after superheroes Batman and Robin — because we all know Musk's penchant for humorous naming conventions.
But the real parallels lie in the engineering. Munro pointed out that Tesla's battery pack and propulsion system, known as the "skateboard," is "brilliant engineering." For example, the company replaced wiring in the pack with a central controller that brings all the brains behind energy input and output on board, an innovative development compared to similar batteries.
Yet Munro continues to be flabbergasted at the bodywork and construction of the vehicle. "There's a lot of anomalies," Munro said, pointing out how the carmaker seems to switch randomly between machine and human soldering and bolting.
This isn't exactly a shocker. Musk has long been interested in the minute details of battery technology and chemistry. His history with mass production processes, however, leaves much to be desired.
Which begs the question: Why can't Musk just ask for help? For years, rumors have abounded of potential acquisitions and partnerships that could give Tesla the much-needed assistance with mass production that it appears to need. Munro offered that there are consultants just like himself in multiple states steeped in lean-manufacturing knowledge.
Admittedly, if Musk truly wants to reinvent the auto industry, starting on the factory floor isn't a bad idea. But if he wants to beat the haters and cement his reputation as the Henry Ford of the 21st century, then perhaps shelving his pride and opening up the doors might be a good place to start.
— Shiraz Ahmed