Is Tesla’s factory efficiency about to leave traditional automakers in the dust?
In its less than two decades of existence, Tesla has garnered an unprecedented number of superlatives: largest global automaker by market cap; best-selling vehicle in several countries (Switzerland is the latest); and most tattooed automaker logo. Now the company has added another feather to its corporate cap: Tesla’s Fremont factory has been named the most productive auto plant in North America.
Above: Tesla's factory in Fremont, California (Source: Tesla)
According to a Bloomberg analysis of production data from over 70 manufacturing facilities, Tesla’s Fremont factory produced an average of 8,550 cars a week in 2021, beating Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky plant, which produced 8,427 cars per week, BMW’s Spartanburg, South Carolina spread (8,343 per week) and Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan truck plant (5,564).
If it appears that Tesla barely edged out Toyota, consider that the Japanese carmaker’s ole Kentucky home is almost twice as large as the Fremont finca, so Tesla is producing far more vehicles on a per-square-foot basis.
Where now are the industry old-timers who ridiculed Tesla in 2018 for setting up a third production line in “a tent in the parking lot?” Or those who claimed the new assembly line was a fake created in Photoshop? (In fact, the controversial construction is properly described as a sprung structure, and appears to be still in service.)
Above: Out of 70 auto plants in the country, Tesla's Fremont factory was determined to be the most productive last year (YouTube: IEN Magazine)
Last year was not a good one for the legacy auto industry—supply-chain snafus forced most automakers to curtail production, but Tesla was able to increase its global production by 83% compared to 2020 levels, thanks to its vertical integration, specifically its in-house software development.
Skeptics may note that said supply crunch is the main reason Tesla was able to out-produce a manufacturing superhero like Toyota. Others would argue that this makes Tesla’s feat more impressive, not less. The climate (in the auto industry and elsewhere) is changing fast, and the small furry mammal is beginning to run circles around the lumbering dinosaurs.
Anyone who doubts that Tesla will be able to sustain its higher productivity level should consider this: the Fremont factory is a mishmash of old and new technology that Tesla has cobbled together over the years in a former GM/Toyota plant. “When we first went in there, we were like a kid in his parent’s shoes,” said Elon Musk at a shareholders’ meeting in October. “Now we’re like spam-in-a-can here: How do we fit more stuff?”
The new factories in Austin and Berlin are very different animals—custom-built by Tesla to be models of efficiency—and their state-of-the-EV-art lines are expected to start ramping up to volume production within weeks. Tesla hopes to be producing a million vehicles per year at the Texas Gigafactory once it reaches full capacity. That’s almost 20,000 vehicles per week.