Tesla’s Good Model 3 Numbers Prepare It for Harder Tasks Ahead

Tesla has just announced that in the third quarter of this year—a period stuffed with news about lawsuits, government investigations, and blunts—it put 55,840 Model 3 sedans into customers’ driveways. That’s an impressive improvement from last year, when only 222 drivers got their new, “affordable” Teslas, and it puts Tesla on track to meet some of Musk’s more recent, more realistic, but of course still daunting, goals.

When you add in Model S and X production, Tesla built over 80,000 vehicles in the quarter, 50 percent more than the high it set earlier this year. And it achieved this growth whilst mired in drama. Between July and September, Musk: doubled down on pedophile claims against a Thai cave rescuer (and is being sued), tweeted about taking the company private (and was sued by shareholders), and smoked weed on a video podcast. Also, Azealia Banks was apparently Instagramming insults from his house. It’s also the quarter during which he settled with the SEC over that taking-Tesla-private tweet, costing him $20 million and his role as the company’s chairman for three years.

But now, for the first time in months, the path ahead looks clear for Tesla. The SEC settlement will require him to bring in a new chair as well as two new independent board members. That could allow Musk to completely focus on his CEO role and just get cars built. If he can just stay off Twitter, the fourth quarter of this year could see Tesla ascend from its status as a niche player to become a real, proper automaker.

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Getting to this point has meant rising through the stages of Elon Musk’s production hell. His initial goal for 2018 was for Tesla to build half a million cars, including 5,000 Model 3s every week, starting by the end of 2017. As this chart shows, Tesla delivered fewer than 2,000 Model 3s in 2017, total. But at the end of the second quarter Tesla finally hit that target, and built 5,031 Model 3s in the final week of June 2018.

When Tesla launched the Model 3 at its Fremont factory in July 2017, Musk warned employees that the next few months were going to be tough, as it worked to get production lines humming.

The new figures show that the 5,000 figure isn’t really sustainable, yet—it was another of Musk’s end-of-quarter rabbit-out-of-the-hat moments, in which he pulls out all the stops to force a result (including, famously, sleeping at the factory). The quarter from July to September is 13 weeks long, which means Tesla produced an average of 4,095 Model 3s per week. That’s short of the 6,000 per week that Tesla promised by the end of August. It wants to eventually hit 10,000 per week, but that goal looks a long way off.

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