If you’re from the Bay Area, you’ve almost certainly heard of Tesla and Elon Musk. If you’re even remotely interested in cars, you’ve probably heard of Tesla. If you’re curious about electronic cars, energy efficiency, or global warming, you’ve probably heard of Tesla. If you’re inspired by space travel, you’ve probably heard of Elon Musk, or at least Space-X. If you’re like me and excited by all of the above, then you understand my almost insane amount of excitement when I got invited to tour the Tesla factory.
It all started Thursday evening, when my friend from high school, Nichole, invited me to go out to drinks with some of her friends from Rice. So I did. (I mean, why not? I’m bored.) And I met Kurt, who is interning this summer at Tesla. That, in and of itself, is pretty awesome. But then he mentioned that he had gotten permission to bring four friends on a tour of Tesla on Friday, and he only had three friends coming, and did I want to join them? Is that even a question? So off to Fremont I went.
I have mixed feelings about the tour. On the one hand, I got a tour of Tesla! On the other hand, it wasn’t as exciting as I expected. First of all, no pictures can be taken inside. This was frustrating on a number of levels. One, there were so many cool pictures to be taken, with amazing points of view. Imagine, dozens of cars partially constructed, lined up in a straight line, just waiting for a cool perspective photo. Rows and rows of parts. Tinted windows stacked a dozen deep, with weird reflections. Robots everywhere you look!
The other thing that was frustrating was that I had about a million questions, but most of them couldn’t be answered. Part of it was that Kurt is an intern working on a completely different part of the production – he’s working this summer to streamline the processing of data from the lasers that control the placement of parts, and make sure that they are all within allowances. Because of that, he didn’t necessarily know the answers to a lot of my questions about the mechanical engineering, and also when he did know the answer he didn’t know if he was allowed to tell us. For example, I asked how many cars they make at capacity. He knew the answer, but didn’t tell us, but someone did say that there are 5,000-6,000 workers on the floor. Which, if we do some math based on this article from last year, implies they’re making about 1,000 cars a week.
I also learned that they take the gear box out of the finished cars they send to Europe and reassemble them there to save on taxes. And that the car’s battery is an integral part of the chassis, which brings the car’s center of gravity lower, making it a safer car to drive. I got to see the entire process, including an awesome magnetic track in the floor that the cars follow as they move through the factory. (I have no idea if this is normal for manufacturing facilities, but it is cool nonetheless.) I learned that everyone who works in Tesla, but not on the factory floor, works in a giant open plan office, and Elon Musk’s desk is only a few tables away from Kurt’s. (He finds this very exciting, understandably!)
Of equal importance, they have a massive cafeteria, and they had the World Cup playing on a giant TV screen that looked literally tiny.
I was able to get a cool photos, primarily from outside the factory, but also from their sales floor (which is tiny, when compared to the factory floor. Tiny!)
Also, Elon Musk keeps his Roadster (one of his Roadsters?) parked in the parking lot there. So I got Kurt to take a picture of me with it. I thought about actually getting behind the wheel, but since we really didn’t know what the deal with it was…plus, the top was down, and I know from experience that with black seats in sunlight like that, either you’re inside for exactly five minutes, or you’re roasted when you come out. And I didn’t want to be IN the car when he walked out… But no, I did not meet Elon Musk, if that’s what you’re thinking. I did, however, rock the sun- and safety-glasses at one time look…