Tesla China president Zhu Xiaotong opened the doors to his Shanghai plant to reporters from China Liberation Daily and Shangguan News agency. In the interview, Mr. Zhu discussed Tesla China’s reported production quality issues.
Mr. Zhu’s office is on the second floor of the production plant and directly connected to the assembly line where the Model Y is produced. For the interview reporters from Shangguan found the president hard at work in the morning with breakfast he brought in the office next to him.
The reporters’ first question was why he doesn’t have an office. As is normal with Tesla’s culture Mr. Zhu and all other executives at the company have a desk out in the open and share the room with all other employees.
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The reason for the unusual setup, as Mr. Zhu explained “first is to strengthen communication and also help to break the concept of hierarchy. Everyone can go to anyone’s workstation, discuss problems immediately and get solutions. Second, it also creates a fair and positive office working atmosphere, everyone can see each other's work status.”
Following the reporters asked Zhu with production growing so fast how Tesla ensures the quality of its vehicles. Zhu pointed to three areas Tesla uses to ensure quality. One is “in terms of product quality, for the interior of the factory, there are a series of requirements for the consistency of the vehicle. The entire factory's production management system has a highly intelligent operation including the material system, Production and operation systems, enterprise ERP systems, etc. are all developed by Tesla.”
“Each system is targeted, can achieve rapid and personalized configuration, and record the required data. For example, the torque and operation of the torque wrench used by factory employees, the position, angle, and other information are all accurately recorded in the production operation system, with high traceability. Once a problem is encountered, it can be traced to the part level, to the specific station, and every detail, ensuring that the factory can timely track down issues effectively.
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Second Mr. Zhu emphasized Tesla’s ability to do over-the-air upgrades to solve any issues that come up. “the management team of the factory also spent a lot of time paying attention to quality-related issues. Many problems can be solved through remote upgrades. This is also a very big feature and is an advantage for us as producers of an intelligent networked car.”
One such example is the over-the-air update that solved the charging issues faced by made-in-China vehicles. Tesla vehicles produced at the Shanghai Gigafactory use lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) cells. During the cold, these cells were having difficulty maintaining supercharger speeds over 50KW. However, within days of the reports coming out Tesla rolled out an over-the-air update and the issue was solved.
Third Zhu emphasized Tesla’s direct sale model and how the company’s closed feedback loop helps to achieve quick improvements to the product. “thanks to Tesla’s direct sales model, customers’ opinions can be given the most direct feedback, and customers’ perception of a product is the most direct and the most obvious experience. Whether it is good or bad feedback, we quickly turn it into a new service or new improvement. "
As for reports of Tesla vehicles suddenly accelerating and crashes that have been reported, Zhu pointed to Tesla cars incorporating several new technologies and consumers not necessarily being familiar with them. Some examples he put forward are the regen functionality, one-pedal driving, and the autopilot system.
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“Today, as our mass-produced cars have entered more and more households and become a general technology, everyone has just started to use it. In this process, there is indeed a learning curve for the use of new technologies. Saying that is the case, it is the same for us. What we have to do is to optimize these functions in more detail so that more consumers can understand and use our functions correctly." said Zhu concerning the issue.
Finally, Zhu emphasizes Tesla’s remote diagnostic software and mobile service vehicles for how the company is trying to deal with any issues. The remote diagnostic software is able to diagnose issues before they arise and the and the mobile service vehicles provide door-to-door mobile service repairs to customers’ homes or work locations and perform quick repairs for problems that do not require large and complex equipment.
Tesla China seems to be facing the same issues Tesla once had to deal with in the US and Europe. There have been countless reports of sudden acceleration, autopilot crashes, and quality issues. In time the company has dealt with the real complaints and has been able to move away from the shadow of the unfounded accusations.
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Tinsae Aregay has been following Tesla and The evolution of the EV space on a daily basis for several years. He covers everything about Tesla from the cars to Elon Musk, the energy business, and autonomy. Follow Tinsae on Twitter at @TinsaeAregay for daily Tesla news.