Tesla Model 3 robotic 'production hell' highlights danger of automating too quickly

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company had grown 'complacent' about its core technologies, leading to a production slowdown.

Tesla Autopilot ... in less than two minutes
Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that delays in Model 3 production are due to trying to include too much new technology in the cars all at once, as well as too much automation on the assembly line.
  • Musk took over the Model 3 assembly line in April, and says that production is back on track.

Tesla may be one of the most high-tech car companies, but being on the cutting edge may have led to the Model 3 "production hell" that the company recently found itself in, CEO Elon Musk said in a Sunday interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning.

When the Model 3 was announced in July 2017, the company promised that it would produce 5,000 cars per week. However, it has been building only about 2,000 per week, according to CBS.

"We got complacent about some of the things we felt were our core technology," Musk said in the interview. "We put too much new technology into the Model 3 all at once. This should have been staged."

Tesla's Fremont, CA factory is widely regarded as one of the most robotic-driven assembly lines on the planet, King noted. However, Musk agreed that there were too many robots, and that the company needs more people, as robots sometimes slow production. "We had this crazy complex network of conveyor belts and it was not working, so we got rid of that whole thing," Musk said.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (Tech Pro Research)

Musk has long been critical of AI, saying that nations' competition for the technology could lead to World War III. At SXSW in March, he said that the current state of AI regulation is "insane," and called the technology "far more dangerous than nukes."

Tesla's production issues could serve as a cautionary tale for companies rushing to automate, as noted by our sister site ZDNet. Automating too quickly can actually lead to slower work and safety issues.

Musk took over the Model 3 production line in April. He said production is now back on track, and that there will be a three- or four-fold increase in Model 3 output in the second quarter.

"I have a pretty clear understanding of the path out of hell," he said.

Anyone who pre-ordered a Model 3 in July should be receiving the car in three to six months, King reported--six to nine months later than initially promised.

Tesla has faced a number of challenges in the past month. In March, the company issued a voluntary recall of 123,000 Model S vehicles due to a faulty steering boat, as reported by our sister site CNET. That month, a Model X driving in Autopilot in the Bay Area mode crashed and killed its driver.

Autopilot will "never be perfect," Musk said during the interview. "Nothing in the real world is perfect. But I do think that long term, it can reduce accidents by a factor of 10. So there are 10 fewer fatalities and tragedies and serious injuries. And that's a really huge difference."

Musk emphasized that Autopilot is not supposed to replace a human driver. "The probability of an accident with Autopilot is just less" when a human is at the wheel, Musk said.

Before the March fatal crash, the Model X driver had received several warnings earlier in the drive, according to a Tesla statement. The system worked "as described," as a hands on system, Musk said.

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Image: CNET