By David Z. Morris
July 1, 2018

Tesla has hit a longstanding and long-delayed goal of producing 5,000 Model 3 sedans in one week—more or less. The 5,000th car was finished at roughly 5 a.m. Sunday morning, hours after the Saturday midnight cutoff for complete fulfillment of the rate Elon Musk has been promising for well over a year.

The almost-milestone, relayed to Reuters by workers at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif. factory but not confirmed by the company, is probably still enough for Tesla supporters and investors to heave a massive sigh of relief. Musk announced production goals last July, stating that Tesla would produce 20,000 vehicles in December of 2017. By fall, it seemed increasingly clear that wouldn’t happen. Musk had projected around 1,600 vehicles would be produced in the third quarter of 2017 as production ramped up, but the final tally ended up being only 260.

The culprit, it would only later become clear, was typical Muskian overconfidence in himself, his staff, and his technology. Starting in early 2018, Musk acknowledged that the design of the Model 3’s production facilities had relied too much on automation, including machines that wound up having trouble with tasks that were relatively simple for humans. The company has been retooling, adding an extra production line, and hiring more workers to get up to speed.

 

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The goalposts were accordingly moved, and the race to 5,000 has preoccupied Tesla leadership, and both its fans and detractors, every since. This week’s near miss marks the almost-fulfillment of a target set back in February, after the challenges of Model 3 production became clearer. Then, the company said it would produce 5,000 Model 3s per week by the end of the second quarter—which was Saturday night.

The belated near-success does still mean a delay for Tesla’s scaling up to profitability. As recently as last July, Musk said the company would produce 500,000 cars in 2018, a number that now seems unlikely.

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