Tesla Motors Factory Tour

November 12, 2013

in Engineering, Events, Ideas, Operations

Today, I slipped away from APU 2013 for a moment to catch a tour of the Tesla Motors factory in Fremont, CA. I’ve had an infatuation with Tesla recently, and I was excited to see the factory in person.


Here are some highlights from the tour:

  • The factory is 1 mile long and 1.4 miles diagonally.
  • It used to be a GM factory, then transitioned to Toyota. Tesla bought the factory for $42 million in 2007 (which is a steal of a price).
  • Tesla is only using 20% of the factory space and has plenty of capacity to grow for a long time in this single location.
  • Tesla is producing 20k cars per year. When Toyota was in the building, they were producing 500k cars per year in the same location.
  • There are 4 primary metal stamping lines in the building. Only one of those lines is big enough to produce the main aluminum panels.
  • There are 3k employees in the factory.
  • The plant runs on Kuka robots from Germany. The robots are largely programmed by manually guiding them to the right locations once, and the robot remembers how to move and simply repeats those same motions on subsequent runs.
  • The cars are placed on autonomous self-driving dollies that follow magnetic tape on the floor and move the pieces around the building. If they need to reconfigure the assembly line, they simply change the course of the magnetic tape on the ground.
  • The electric motors are the size of a watermelon. The electric motors also serve as the battery re-generator by flipping their polarity.
  • The electric motor and battery in the S85 are the same as the ones in the P85. The software in the P85 enables more power to hit the electric motor for faster acceleration. The P85 has hardened gears and a slightly thicker axle to handle the additional torque. Hypothetically, you could hack a Tesla to get as much torque as you want. You just run the risk of snapping an axle.
  • The guy next to me on the tour works as an audio engineer for Neil Young. Elon Musk had asked him to come and work on the audio specs for the upcoming Model X SUV. He showed me Elon’s desk – in the middle of the floor with all the other production engineers.
  • There were several non-standard colored Model S in the parking lot. This green one is owned by a guy that works in the paint department of the factory:


Tesla Motors is an awesome young company bringing to life a dying and unimaginative US auto market. This article explains well why there are so many Tesla fanboys.

Overall, I was very impressed with the combination of rigorous engineering as well as the chaotic and evolving genius of the startup-like atmosphere.

What are your thoughts on Tesla?


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Matt Cheek November 13, 2013 at 9:51 am

I hope it all goes well. I want the prices to decrease a little to make it easier for me to afford. I am very interested and the overall news about fires do not scare me away.

melonakos November 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Fires are a joke. ICEs catch more fires per mile driven and have the potential to explode. In the 3 Tesla fires, no one has been hurt, the fires didn’t start until the passengers had been warned by the computer and had already existed the vehicle, were controlled burns, and all 3 owners are still driving Tesla.

The price will come down over time. Tesla represents a watershed moment for electric vehicles with: the range that matters, the look and feel that’s adoptable, and the nearness to affordability that provides the hope of actually becoming affordable as the technology gets cheaper over the next decade.

Chris C. November 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Nice job and congratulations on your Tesla. A few minor comments:

This is an oversimplification: “It used to be a GM factory, then transitioned to Toyota.” The NUMMI plant was a GM/Toyota joint project. Check Wikipedia.

Not only did Tesla get the factory for a bargain price, they got those reports for a steal as well. A couple years ago they were buying while the rest of the industry was contracting.

Regarding the S85/P85 motor … there’s an old joke with car performance guys. First you bore out the cylinders to get more power. Then you replace the clutch to handle that increased power. Then you replace the transmission, then the differential, and finally the wheels and tires!

melonakos November 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Haha, I like the old joke. I think we’ll try hacking at it some. Maybe our NVIDIA contacts will leak some useful SW to us (hint hint hint!) to help that process 🙂

Chris C. November 13, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Aaand I see I typo’d something. Instead of “they got those reports for a steal”, I meant “they got those robots for a steal”. If you have edit capability, feel free to edit that in and delete this reply 🙂

Joanna Chao November 30, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Question – how did you get a tour? are they available to the public now? The research I’ve done online says that only people who have purchased a Tesla are offered a tour, but would love to hear if there is another way.

melonakos December 1, 2013 at 12:59 am

I’m not sure if they’re available to the public now. You can try calling them to ask.

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