In January, we reported that Tesla Model 3 production shortages were likely linked to the fact that the company wasn't hiring enough at its Fremont plant assembly line where the car is made. Now, Elon Musk is admitting this misake and that the company has been over-reliant on robotics. In fact, our data shows a hiring surge for the plant.
Here's the data for Tesla's hiring, culled from our Thinknum data trail:
As you can see, hiring slumped last fall when it should have surged. Instead, Musk confesses, he thought he could do it all with robots (who wouldn't go against his wishes by forming a union). That cost the company, as it missed production goals, disappointed investors, and drove Tesla's stock from the mid $350s to a low of $252 (it's now back in the $290s).
Now, as of this week, Tesla is hiring 126 people for the Fremont plant. This marks the most open positions for that plant since we've began tracking the data in 2017.
On a tour of the Fremont factory with "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King on Friday (you can watch the full clip embedded at the end of this story), Musk and King walk one stretch of assembly line that's still completely bereft of any sign of human involvement, where King asks him about Tesla's reliance on robots instead of humans.
"In some cases, the robots actually slowed the production. Right?" King queried.
"Yes, they did….We had this crazy, complex network of conveyor belts….And it was not working, so we got rid of that whole thing," Musk replied, somewhat sheepishly.
Trying to lighten up the mood, Musk quipped, "This is kinda like Westworld for cars," referring to the opening of the HBO hit show where humanoid robots are assembled in a beautiful but sterile sequence, untouched by human hands.
"That's creepy," King replied, not amused. "Bad stuff happens in Westworld."
"Okay," Musk back-pedaled, "maybe that's a bad analogy."
It's actually a perfect analogy. As we reported, it appears that it was Musk's fear of union organizing at his factory that drove him to attempt to maximally-automate his assembly line. And it didn't work out for him or the company.
- Tesla is facing charges from the National Labor Relations Board, which last week added more allegations of illegal union-busting actions
- That in turn led to greater scrutiny of Musk's labor practices - an investigative report by RevealNews.org turned up evidence that Tesla has been mis-classifying worker injuries to make their safety record appear better.
"The problem that people have, a lot of the analysts, is they kinda look in the rearview mirror instead of looking at the front windscreen," Musk said. "This has very frequently been why people have underestimated Tesla, because they would look at Tesla's – what Tesla's done in the past and use that as proxy for what we're able to do in the future."
Tesla is doing great work developing world-changing, cutting-edge technology. It would be a shame if this one blind spot of Musk's caused it to fail.
Our previous coverage:
- Tesla takes a speed bump, hits the brakes on hiring
- Tesla's production plagued by inexperienced workers. After they laid off 700.
- How to lose a billion dollars? Bet against Tesla (when they're bouncing back bigly)
- Tesla adds jobs - is Model 3 production out of the ditch and back on track?
- Musk bet on robots over people for Tesla's Model 3 factory