You can probably argue over whether it’s a good or a bad sign, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirmed on Twitter today a report in The Information that he has taken over direct control of the division that’s producing Tesla’s Model 3 electric sedan after the company failed to meet the delivery goals it had set.
Specifically, Tesla had intended to produce 500 Model 3 cars per day, or 2,500 per week, by the end of last month. But according to a company-wide email to employees that was sent today and obtained by Jalopnik, Musk said Tesla has been making closer to 2,000 of the cars per week. (Musk estimated last July that Tesla would be making 20,000 of the cars per month by December.)
In his email — fired off at 3 am. PDT — Musk added that if “things go as planned today, we will comfortably exceed that number over a seven day period!”
Musk may have been referring in part to the reorganization. But while The Information reported that Musk had seemingly “pushed aside the company’s senior vice president of engineering, Doug Field, who had been overseeing manufacturing in recent months,” Musk quickly took issue with that characterization of events.
He complained on Twitter to Information reporter Amir Efrati, “Can’t believe you’re even writing about this. My job as CEO is to focus on what’s most critical, which is currently Model 3 production. Doug, who I regard as one of the world’s most talented engineering execs, is focused on vehicle engineering.”
Musk continued, tweeting: “About a year ago, I asked Doug to manage both engineering & production. He agreed that Tesla needed [engineering and production to be] better aligned, so we don’t design cars that are crazy hard to build. Right now, tho, better to divide & conquer, so I’m back to sleeping at factory. Car biz is hell …”
That Musk is feeling sensitive to press reports right now won’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows the company, given the string of negative publicity that Tesla has received in recent weeks.
In addition to a voluntary recall of 123,000 Model S vehicles that owes to a problem with the power-steer component of some of the cars, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week launched an investigation into the role of Tesla’s Autopilot in a fatal crash.
In fact, in a series of separate tweets today, Musk responded to the National Transportation Safety Board, a safety agency that said it was “unhappy” with Tesla’s decision on Friday to publish a blog post about the accident, given that investigations are ongoing.
In that post, Tesla said the driver, since identified as an Apple engineer, “had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision.” The company also noted that a highway safety barrier that might have lessened the impact of the collision had been “crushed in a prior accident without being replaced.”
The suggestion was plainly that Tesla can’t be blamed, at least not entirely, for the fatality.
In response to the NTSB’s newly public frustration over the release of these details by Tesla, Musk wrote on Twitter today, “Lot of respect for NTSB, but NHTSA regulates cars, not NTSB, which is an advisory body. Tesla releases critical crash data affecting public safety immediately & always will. To do otherwise would be unsafe.”
Tesla closed down 5.1 percent at $252.48 in trading today.