It'll make "half a million new cars by 2018"? Really?
2018 is shaping up to be a big year for Musk, whose other company SpaceX just announced it'll be sending spacecraft to Mars by then. Meanwhile, Musk's recent brash claims that Tesla will produce half a million cars by 2018 isn't admirable for its blind ambition; it's alarming for its ignorance. Tesla has a well-established pattern of declaring a huge undertaking with unbridled ambition and confidence, and then encountering chronic production problems -- whether it's the Model S, one of its updates, or the Model X, which famously encountered wave after wave of delays. Finally, once production came to pass, recalls began almost immediately.
A company, whose track record suggests tardiness is the norm, intends to finish the highly ambitious gigafactory on time, while developing a car for production on a much larger scale than ever before, on a time frame even the most loyal Teslaphiles must admit is unrealistic, and despite having a mere fraction of the resources that more established manufacturers have. Alrighty then.
Speaking of resources, Tesla's research and development capacity is nowhere near the industry titans
I'm going to preface this point by saying that I don't have in-depth knowledge of Tesla's research and development programs. I do, however, have a pretty good idea of the research and development programs at the Fords and GMs of the world. They're the Goliaths of the industry, and for very good reason.
It might sound counter-intuitive to say that making a car that's truly different is a lot easier than making a car that's well established, but consider the following. Large carmakers have virtual-reality chambers that are the real-world embodiment of a Star Trek holodeck: they allow engineers, designers, even psychologists to examine a vehicle's design and reform it in real time, from various locations across the globe.
Yes, I said "psychologists." Everything from how long an alert is displayed on your instrument cluster to how many times your turn signals blink is determined by professionals who study your human peculiarities for a living. Ford just released a slew of market research that delves into the style of beverages people drink. Why? Because it impacts the design of cup holders. Ford even developed a robot named Ruth whose sole purpose is testing cup holders ad nauseum.
The point is, Tesla is the David fighting Goliath, a very small company in the grand scheme of things. Admittedly, that anti-establishment business model has some legitimately innovative practices that could have a lasting impact on the automotive industry long after Tesla is gone. Those ideas, however, won't help Tesla overcome the inevitable pitfalls that come with transitioning into a small-to-midsized manufacturer. It just doesn't have the kind of resources, human capital, and physical infrastructure needed to achieve its ambitious goals -- specifically, maintaining build quality while cutting costs and increasing production tenfold.