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Tesla 3
credit: tesla

When I last wrote a bit on the Tesla 3, back in November of 2017, things weren’t going terribly well for Elon Musk and Tesla. Quoth Musk:

We are very confident about costs [of Model 3 production],’ he said.

‘When we make mistakes it’s because we’re stupid, not because we’re trying to mislead anyone,’ Musk continued. ‘We aspire to be less dumb over time.

To which I replied:

Golly. Don’t most people want to spend $30,000 dollars and more for products produced by companies that aren’t stupid? Honesty is nice in the right context, but one can’t fix stupid, not at those prices.

Back then, Musk was hoping to have Model 3 production going great guns, perhaps sometime at the end of 2018. Apparently, things aren’t noticeably improving, as Digital Trends.com reports:

credit: car&driver

On the flipside, engineers at an independent ‘competitive benchmarking” company, Munro & Associates, based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, didn’t have equally as nice things to say in their assessment of the Model 3. Other outlets published Munro & Associates’ remarks, which were all compiled in a YouTube video, with comparisons to build quality from a “1990s Kia” resonating most. Although Kia is doing great now, back in the 1990s, its cars weren’t worth much praise.

In the video, Munro & Associates engineers complain about the Model 3’s inconsistent gaps, shoddy build quality, and mending attempts. The owner of the firm, Sandy Munro, even said that he hasn’t seen stuff like this ‘since the 1970s.’ We could assume he’s referring to the bygone era of the likes of British Leyland, with its reputation for some of the worst build quality automotive history has ever seen.

I’ve been around long enough to have actually closely examined, even driven, vehicles from the 70s. They were, with few exceptions, awful compared to contemporary vehicles.

A few months back, I actually saw a model 3–at least I’m pretty sure it was a model 3–on a Texas highway. I was rolling along in cruise control bliss, and initially noticed the Tesla when it, in the left hand lane, suddenly slowed to a near stop and I cruised past it. Over the next half hour, it would accelerate, pass me, and suddenly decelerate, causing me to roll sedately past. On several of those occasions, I could detect a stream of obscenities issuing forth from the mouth of the red-faced driver, and watched the lady I assume was his wife sadly shaking her head. Eventually, they rolled to a stop by the roadside, and disappeared from sight in my rear view mirror. Perhaps the driver was merely exercising his right ankle…

During the 70s and a bit thereafter, it was common knowledge that when one saw a motorcycle broken down by the side of the road, it would invariably be a Harley. Harley has long since pretty much cleaned up its act. It would appear Tesla has a way to go on that account.

The news on Tesla’s much-hyped electric semi tractor/trailer is also less then promising. Back in July of 2017, in EV Breakthroughs: Uh, Maybe Not, I commented on Musk’s claims of 30 minute charging times, 300 mile range, and other unicorn farts and bits of fairy dust:

Do you see the inherent problems, gentle readers? I mean, beyond Tesla’s dismal record of delivering promised vehicles on time? Briefly, the only way such vehicles could be remotely competitive with conventional trucks is if megachargers were ubiquitous, pretty much everywhere. And there’s the ‘in convoy’ bit. Will Tesla place multiple chargers at each charging station? If not, a three-vehicle convoy is going to take 90 minutes to recharge, and that’s if Tesla’s promised 400-mile charge is remotely accurate. Oh, and recharging batteries of that size and power will take an enormous amount of electrical energy, which doesn’t come from unicorn farts and fairy dust. The truck looks cool, but there’s much to prove before diesels become a thing of the past.

John Feddersen, chief executive of Aurora Energy Research, a consultancy set up in 2013 by a group of Oxford university professors, said the power required for the megacharger to fill a battery in that amount of time would be 1,600 kilowatts.

That is the equivalent of providing power for 3,000-4,000 “average” houses, he told a London conference last week, and is 10 times as powerful as Tesla’s current network of “superchargers” for its electric cars.  Tesla declined to comment on the calculations.

Fedderson wasn’t the only skeptic:

Other experts in battery technology have claimed that charging a truck in half an hour would require technology exceeding anything available. ‘The fastest chargers today can support up to around 450kW charging, so it’s not clear yet how Tesla will achieve their desired charging speeds,’ said Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a consultancy.

In January of 2018, US News.com was also skeptical:

Tesla Inc (Nasdaq: TSLA) investors get an important update on the Model 3 this week, and analysts are expecting the electric car company to once again miss the mark. Loup Ventures analyst Gene Munster says Tesla investors should be prepared for more bad Model 3 news throughout 2018, but they shouldn’t give up on Tesla just yet.

Munster is expecting Tesla to report fourth-quarter Model 3 deliveries of just 2,500, less than half of the consensus Wall Street analyst estimate of 5,200. To make matters worse, Munster says Tesla will likely miss its first 2018 Model 3 production target as well. After previously targeting Model 3 production of 5,000 vehicles per week by the end of 2017, Tesla bumped that target back to ‘late Q1 2018’ following its third-quarter earnings report. Munster says even the new target is ‘ambitious.’

But even if Tesla stock takes a hit on more Model 3 production delays, Munster says investors can rest assured Tesla’s technology remains ahead of schedule.

‘While other car manufacturers build gas-powered vehicles at scale, building autonomous EVs is a vastly different process that will require traditional auto manufactures to re-engineer their production facilities,’ Munster says. He says Tesla is simply experiencing the same type of production difficulties that every other automaker will experience when transitioning to large-scale electric and autonomous vehicle production.

In October, Tesla reported that it produced 220 Model 3 vehicles in the third quarter. CEO Elon Musk had previously said the company would produce more than 1,600 Model 3s by September.’

Munster isn’t the only analyst to doubt Tesla’s fourth-quarter Model 3 production. KeyBanc analyst Brad Erickson reduced his fourth-quarter Model 3 production target by two-thirds, cutting it from 15,000 to only 5,000.

Munster certainly isn’t alone in his doubts. Oilprice.com reports:

Tesla has promised to begin delivering its trucks in late 2019. Electric battery capacity has been improving at a rate of roughly 8 percent per year – and some have posited that Musk’s lofty claims are merely just him trying to anticipate what will be possible as the first batch of trucks are being assembled. However, if Aurora’s assessment is accurate, then the technological advancements needed to enable a 30-minute charging time for a semi-truck are still years, if not decades, off.

Furthermore, Musk has said little about the enhancements to the power grid that would be needed to power fleets of Tesla’s semi-trucks. [skip]

National Grid, which oversees Britain’s electricity system, has suggested that in the most extreme scenario, electric vehicles could create as much as 18 gigawatts of additional demand for power at peak times in the UK by 2050.

This is the equivalent capacity of nearly six nuclear power stations on the scale of the Hinkley Point project under construction in the south-west of England. [skip]

‘The fastest chargers today can support up to around 450kW charging, so it’s not clear yet how Tesla will achieve their desired charging speeds,’ said Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a consultancy.

As I’ve often noted, there are three primary ways to increase motor vehicle efficiency: advancements in engine technology, improvements in aerodynamics, and lightening the vehicle. All of these come with significant tradeoffs. Fuel-sipping engines are commonly not terribly powerful, and as a result, simply not workable for many vehicles. Aerodynamic improvements are now at the point of being very incremental, and again, one can’t achieve race car aerodynamics in vehicles that are useful for every day transportation. When a vehicle gets too light, it loses reliability, longevity, and becomes actively dangerous.

Chevy Bolt
credit: car&driver.com

The same is true for EVS. Vehicles like the Chevy Bolt manage good range by being very light and small, but I definitely wouldn’t want to be in an accident in one. And unfortunately, battery technology is not making the kind of quantum leaps EV proponents suggest are just right around the corner. The laws of physics are stubborn that way.

This doesn’t mean breakthroughs that are unimaginable today won’t be realized at some point in the future–extraterrestrials might reveal themselves and gift us with their EV technology–but for the time being, most folks probably shouldn’t count on new country EV convoy songs, or model 3 songs, unless they focus on cryin’ at the charger, or betrayin’ a faithful gal that plunked down a deposit and got done wrong.