Tesla has been on an epic run since the beginning of 2017.
Its market cap, at around $50 billion, passed Ford’s and now rivals General Motors. If all goes according to schedule, the Model 3 mass-market car will launch in about a month.
But not all is well in Tesla land. There’s been chatter about a union-organizing effort at the company’s Fremont, Calif. factory.
And a Guardian report this week saw some Tesla workers characterize the plant as a dangerous place to work, and the pace that the carmaker and CEO Elon Musk sets to be brutal.
Welcome to the auto industry. Building cars is demanding physically. On modern assembly lines, it isn’t as tough as it used to be, but it’s still demanding. And even though the industry has taken a leadership role in automation — auto plants have been heavily automated for decades — a lot of man- (and woman-) hours are required to bolt a vehicle together. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed in the US doing just that.
Auto manufacturing is about as efficient as it can be these days without a massive leap in technology. But a massive leap is what Musk wants. You could accuse Tesla of being somewhat unfriendly to human concerns, given its recent bad press around labor. But what Musk truly has in mind is something completely inhuman.
Or more accurately, something posthuman. His goal is to radically remake not simply auto manufacturing but all manufacturing by using a much higher degree of automation. To that end, Tesla bought a German firm, Grohmann Engineering, that specializes in automated processes.
But that’s merely a baby step. When talking about his “Master Plan, Part Deux” last year, Musk outlined what he called the “alien dreadnought” factory — a plant so different from what we see today, even at the most advanced facilities, that it would be unrecognizable. It would be alien in its innovation.