It is finally happening! On day 12 of our family roadtrip we were about to visit the birthplace of Nikola. No, not the real person – we christened our Model S after the great inventor. We’re talking about the Tesla factory in Fremont, California!
I won’t deny that it was at the core of our trip planning to make sure we got this in. What other way to culminate our trip than to step into the very walls where our car was assembled? We carefully planned the whole day around this event, knowing that the tour usually lasts 1-1,5 hours. With great help that we have received from the Tesla personnel facilitating the visits (thanks again, Jaime!) it was easy to confirm all the details ahead of time.
We spent the night before in the hotel in Fremont, so we were just minutes away from the factory. Even so, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance – I carefully studied the instructions provided to know where to enter and where to park. I then cross-checked that information against Google maps to make sure we’ve got it right. We left the hotel with enough spare time to reach there in time and then some, but there were people already waiting at the entrance to Visitor Center when we arrived. I guess everyone is as excited about this opportunity as I was. Great to be in a crowd sharing the same passion. Some traveled from afar (Europe and New Zealand), some flew from across the country (such as a lovely couple from North Carolina that we had a chance to chat with). Most were surprised to see a Texas registered Tesla parking next to the entrance and gave us a nod of admiration and approval. I’ll take it!
At last, the doors opened and we all rushed in to fulfill the formalities (such as signing an NDA). We knew that we won’t be able to record or take pictures inside, nor we would be allowed to publicize about what has been shown to us. No big deal really, since there’s a lot of information already available out there. For the faithful followers of Tesla mission there’s hardly any secret left to be uncovered anyway. There’s always the Megafactories on NatGeo to get the gist of it. Seeing it in person though is yet another experience.
From the get-go, the passion of people working at the factory is very evident. The person who would be our guide was in his twenties and he wanted to work for Tesla since he was a teenager. It was showing, as he was very knowledgeable not only as far as the tour was concerned, but in Tesla’s history, the mission and tech stuff far beyond what was required to accommodate out group. It made whole of a difference listening to another passionate and very engaged young person believing in Tesla’s goal to provide a sustainable future of transportation. Many of the workers on the production floor greeted and waved at us as we were passing by, cementing the impression that most of the FUD you read about the company lately is rather far from truth. I am sure one can find an unhappy person in every environment and Tesla would be no different. I haven’t seen that during this visit though.
Since we cannot discuss the details of what’s inside, I’ll have to be brief. To start with, the factory itself is huge. I’ve spent most of my career supporting the manufacturing industry and I’ve also visited other automotive industry facilities (most recently Peterbilt), so I am no stranger to large industrial complexes. Yet Tesla’s factory leaves me impressed. To think that just a few years ago this facility was a NUMMI plant – a joint venture between GM and Toyota that produced almost 8 million vehicles since the 1980s when it opened. Two giants of the automotive industry had many years to practice and perfect their procedures and protocols in order to manufacture cars in the most efficient way. Tesla had acquired this facility at a bargain price, but that bargain didn’t include the know-how. They would have had to start from scratch. Seeing how in just a few years Tesla went from limited production of Roadster to the flagship Model S sedan, then Model X and now ramping up Model 3 numbers in order to satisfy the massive backlog of both pre- and newly placed orders is very impressive. The floor is teeming with life, many workers and robots side-by-side helping to accomplish something truly remarkable – building the best electric vehicles on the planet, against the financial odds and nay-sayers. All this while reinventing the wheel, challenging status quo around the automotive industry and its golden production procedures and ensuring the cars living the Tesla facility are not only safe, but equipped with the best technology you can get in a car today.
Needless to say, my dream has been fulfilled again and again. One, by owning the car. Two, by seeing in person how it is made. A truly remarkable experience. I think it is safe to say that we are in good hands as long as Tesla continues on its mission and provides us with the marvelous cars that they make.