Chaos of Tesla China: Super factory of ‘blood and tears’

Tram Ho

When the plane lands at Pudong Airport (Shanghai), passengers can see sharp angles of land jutting out into the sea through clouds. This is the main urban area of ​​Lingang city, now renamed as the new city of Nam Hoi (Nanhui New City). Going 20 kilometers southwest from here is the “Shanghai Tesla Super Factory”.

Surrounded by a vast and undeveloped farmland, the Tesla factory covers an area of ​​860,000 square meters, operating around the clock. Heavy trucks full of different colored Tesla cars just rolled off the assembly line from here, shipping to all over China and the world.

On July 13, 2018, Tesla signed a contract with the Shanghai city government and announced that the “Super Factory” would be located at Shanghai Lingang. In January 2019, the factory was officially put into construction, in December of the same year, the first batch of Model 3 produced by the Shanghai factory was delivered. By October 2020, Model 3 began to be exported from here to Europe.

Everything is in perfect accordance with the so-called “Chinese speed”.

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Outside the Tesla super factory in Shanghai, a two-story rickshaw pulls out new cars from the factory (Photo Credit: Pinwan)

Separated from red double-decker tractors carrying Tesla cars, there are white buses carrying Tesla employees and workers living in rental homes nearby. In the past 2020, Tesla’s stock price has risen sixfold, and the third quarter stands out with the best financial report in history. Car output in the quarter increased 51% year-on-year and over 65% year-on-month, reaching 145,000 vehicles. In the US, which is still covered by the COVID-19 epidemic, Tesla’s production has fallen into “hell” and is unable to secure its capacity, while the Berlin super plant in Europe once again has to close the door. It was the employees of the Shanghai super factory who miraculously allowed Tesla to complete production capacity enhancement.

Tesla’s speed in China has caused its stock price to skyrocket in 2020. As of December 23, 2020, Tesla’s market value has exceeded $ 610 billion. Wall Street and Silicon Valley are very excited about Tesla and see it as a “light to change the world”.

But, what the elites in New York and Silicon Valley never try to notice is what happened inside that “miraculous” and brilliant Tesla factory in Shanghai, which is far from reach. the “world change” they give to it.

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On a rainy night, heavy trucks leave the Tesla Super Factory in Shanghai (Photo Credit: Pinwan)

Non-standard parts disappear on their own

“To complete production, Tesla is unscrupulously lowering its own quality standards,” said some people working in the Tesla China factory.

An employee whose work is related to warehouse and logistics has repeatedly discovered that substandard parts will disappear in inexplicable ways. The reason for the disappearance of these poor quality parts contrasts sharply with the “high-tech image” that Tesla has always created.

Accordingly, this person said the company is implementing the production process using the SAP system to manage the transportation and circulation of products in the factory. It was in use for a short time, but because it was “too expensive and has to pay a lot of money annually”, the system was disabled shortly thereafter. After deactivating the SAP system, Tesla’s IT department “copied” a similar software system.

“It’s not smart at all,” said people familiar with the matter.

This leads to part validation, shipping and assembly that can be completed by the system, but requires a lot of manual force. One consequence of this is that inventory inventory accuracy has become a mess.

Due to the inaccuracy of the system, it is natural for workers to evaluate whether the components are qualified or not. During the last inventory, many people tried to track the broken parts to see where they went, but found that they could not be found.

It is possible that these bad parts have been loaded into the finished vehicle, by insiders speculate.

Not only does the assembly process lose control, but Tesla parts and components even have problems from the root cause. Because that’s the cost of pursuing the speed of production. The production pressure is so great that the suppliers cannot bear it.

“Completely unable to deliver, it’s annoying,” said one Tesla supplier. When the demand for output reaches the limit, the price will require a quality sacrifice. “The solution is very simple and rude, it is the problem parts, ie defective products, put directly on the line.”

This claim has been recognized by several vendors, and they even claim that it has been considered an “open secret” in the industry.

Employees in Tesla’s internal quality control department are also sensing the change. One employee said that in the open office area of ​​Tesla, they often hear people comment that: Because the quality of parts and components has decreased, there are many problems with cars made at the factory. in Shanghai and quality standard scores also fell. If shipped according to the original standard, no car will pass the quality inspection. But its solution is not to improve quality. Instead, factory benchmarks after all vehicle testing were lowered.

“For example, before to leave the factory it was 80 points, but now 60 points is enough,” the people who work in Tesla told to request anonymity.

Some Tesla engineers have lamented that although the product looks like a Tesla electric car on the outside, but the quality controlled, the accuracy of the workmanship is no less than the craft product: “The car (from home This is a different car. Defective product. “

The dangers that accumulate and the way Tesla management teams work has made matters worse. Some S Models have had a bolt problem. This is a high-end Tesla model, but in extreme cases this will cause the car’s suspension to malfunction, affect the vehicle’s control and increase the risk of an accident.

But after the incident, at a weekly meeting, Xue Juncheng, director of Tesla’s after-sales service in China, said: “We cannot recall. After finding out that there was a problem with the vehicle. We can make a secret replacement. For example, when the vehicle arrives for maintenance or the owner requests it, it can be replaced. “

And this makes quality a “free upgrade” to Tesla’s official after-sales service. At a later meeting, Xue Juncheng also cited an internal statistical data, saying that more than 100 Model S vehicles were found to have the same problem. Industry insiders explain that, as affected by frequency of use, problems with front studs include a probability factor, but more than 100 vehicle failures are no longer a small number.

“The problem first appeared in 2017, but in order to delay recall and avoid excessive costs, there is no public solution,” said a former Tesla employee attending the meeting .

In fact, Tesla has only conducted three recalls in the Chinese market, all involving only imported models. Vehicles made at the Shanghai factory are not affected. Among them, on October 23, 2020, Tesla recalled nearly 30,000 imported Model S and Model X units in the Chinese market, the largest recall in the country. Among the reasons mentioned are the potential dangers of the front suspension due to the studs fault.

But shortly after the recall, CNBC reported, when faced with questions from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Tesla said it disagreed with the conclusion. that the vehicle has breakdown and is blamed for “abuse by the car owners in China”. This is considered a spectacular “splash of dirty water”, returned to Chinese users.

At the same time, accidents caused by Tesla quality problems in China began to appear more frequently. Some faults are confirmed such as the center console screen turns black without warning during driving, the vehicle loses control during driving, the roof leaks, the car is rusted … a number of accidents that caused casualties.

However, these quality defects and safety hazards cannot prevent Tesla’s thirst for production capacity and output. In fact, what Tesla considered when building a factory in Shanghai is assessing the factory’s overall dynamics to the surrounding upstream manufacturing supply chain and the driving force for high-quality manufacturing. in China.

Obviously, the thing that Tesla values ​​most is productivity.

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The entrance to the Tesla Super Factory in Shanghai (Photo Credit: Pinwan)

Factory of tears

“Tesla’s current output is too high,” is a general assessment of many Tesla employees and those in the auto industry.

In October 2020, the Shanghai factory produced 22,900 vehicles, outperforming other luxury car brands in China. Be aware that Beijing Benz’s monthly production has exceeded 20,000 units, but it will take 10 years to reach this figure. Two other domestic automakers need year-round figures to keep up with the one-month production output of Tesla’s Shanghai factory.

And this forceful increase in output does not rely on technological innovation. Most of the time, it is still the result of hard physical labor. This type of high-intensity production quickly caused many workers to change their views of the Tesla super factory Shanghai. Their interests are rapidly shrinking and the harsh working environment also discourages workers.

“When the plant was opened and built, the volume of planned wastewater treatment was completely different from the present,” recalls Liu Zhuoli, an employee of the wastewater treatment station. When this plant was put into operation for three months, if according to the normal production process, the wastewater treatment capacity was sufficient. But as production went up, he noticed that his rest time was decreasing.

In the end, both the workers and the machines are overloaded at the same time and cannot handle that much wastewater. One night, the leader suddenly came and said that today’s volume of wastewater treatment would triple. The person said, “How to handle it is up to you, as long as the discharge meets the standards.”

Liu Zhuoli was heartbroken. He was only recruited into the factory as an operator, not an engineer. But the leader’s directive was tough: “Can’t find a way to improve the equipment, can it? Then all will lose their jobs together.”

Starting at 5 pm, the leader and the entire department were “sitting together”. At 11 p.m., a number of employees who could not help but finally said: “I understand” , the leaders at that time let everyone leave. However, no real solution has been found.

At Tesla, the evening shifts don’t have dumplings, not even snacks. Every evening at 8:30 a.m., Tesla employees who work overtime will get a snack. Initially it was a boxed rice, then changed to instant noodles, and finally changed directly with bread for easy storage and use.

Gradually, workers no longer expect to have delicious food, such as Western, Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, and Japanese food like the foreign-invested factories where they previously worked. Sometimes, even the bread they received had expired.

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At 7:00 a.m., Tesla employees in the morning shift (photo source: Pinwan)

Like most manufacturing plants in China, the production lines of the Tesla factory in Shanghai also operate in three shifts, 24 hours a day. A work shift is 12 hours, which means having to stand working for a long time, because only a few minutes to install a part. Under such work intensity, workers can only concentrate completely in one place.

“To be blunt, we are not considered humans. We are tools. A robotic arm can walk, eat and pee!”, Liu Zhuoli said angrily.

He still remembers that when the Shanghai factory first opened, hundreds of people were at the door waiting for interviews to enter the factory every Saturday morning. This mighty team could span several kilometers, all coming. from BYD, SAIC, Volkswagen and other factories in the auto industry. At that time, Tesla Shanghai was famous for its high salary, in addition to the basic salary, there were stocks and overtime allowance. In many cases, the overtime allowance can be up to 1/3 of the basic salary, the highest level worker can receive more than 10,000 yuan per month (about 35 million VND).

But then the benefits started being canceled. First, overtime pay was canceled, time off was not optional, leading to a series of employees in the production department resigning. In a week, nearly 100 people left the production line, forcing the factory to shut down. After that, 3 shifts were changed to 2 shifts due to insufficient staff.

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At five a.m., Tesla employees are entitled to a night shift (photo source: Pinwan).

And yet, after entering the factory, the new workers discovered this place was much less advanced than the attractive promotional videos released by the Tesla China branch.

In the public content of Tesla China, there are many vivid images inside the factory. A series of uniform and giant robotic arms stood on either side of the production line, with a conveyor belt in the middle. Vehicles waiting in long queue for assembly. But an employee in the workshop said this is just what Tesla China wants the outside world to see. Like traditional vehicles, Tesla also has 4 stamping, welding, painting and assembling factories, the difference is that there is an additional battery workshop.

“The most messy is the assembly workshop. The factory is crowded, turning around is also difficult. There are materials but still have to wait for the installation to be completed,” said one worker.

But many workers still work persistently.

“The only thing we are satisfied with? Stock!”, Was the answer of a number of Tesla employees, even though they did not know each other.

For them, the most anticipated time of the day is when the US stock market opens after night falls. At that time, they will take out their cell phones and place them on the table and pray that the line representing the rise and fall of the stock will be up.

While at Tesla China, regardless of position and rank, each employee can receive a certain amount of shares, including factory workers and store salespeople. Under the pressure of declining interests and an increasingly demanding work environment, stocks have become one of the biggest motivations for them to keep working. The stock lockout period is one year, which means that if workers leave within a year, they will lose their share of the stock and the good expectations they put on it will be lost.

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A roadside late night restaurant outside the Tesla Super Factory in Shanghai (Photo Credit: Pinwan)

But the biggest turning point happened in May 2020, when Tesla China formally canceled the equity incentive system for ordinary employees.

At this point, even the last thought of staying was gone.

Tesla’s reputation in the community has begun to deteriorate, and the hiring companies that worked before are no longer ready to introduce new workers.

“I strongly advise against going to Tesla,” said the curator of a labor leasing company 4.5 kilometers from Tesla. This company is just good at exaggerating, but the reality is not easy to live. Many of the people I introduced because they couldn’t bear the management approach, left early. “

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As this prejudice spreads among frontline factory staff, the quality of jobs that require manual work is inevitably affected.

“Bro, this window is not closed,” reminded an employee in charge of the facility’s operation on the intercom. He has worked in a number of manufacturing plants, and based on past experience, windows must be closed when leaving the factory. But at Tesla, he got an answer from his radio: “We’ll close.” After 15 minutes, still no one came to the scene to deal with.

On the two sides of the road outside the Tesla Shanghai Super Factory, every time the lights are on, many night market stalls will appear. They sell bowls of 10 yuan noodles, 7 yuan chicken thighs, and 2 yuan pancakes. Workers, after eating, will go to sleep in the dormitory, wait for sunrise the next day, and then return to the factory to continue their unfinished work.

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Modest night market at the entrance of Tesla Gigafactory (Photo Credit: Pinwan)

Above is an excerpt from a long report on

Once published, it immediately attracted the attention and interest of the Chinese online community. Also almost immediately, Tesla China has responded. The company’s representative said that the Shanghai Tesla factory is still operating in accordance with the Chinese law, with no “production quality loss” phenomenon.

In response to the above article, the head of Tesla said there are many logic problems in the above article. Tao Lin, Tesla’s vice president, posted a message on the Weibo social network saying the company was ready to sue its team of journalists.

In response, the editor of the newspaper also responded: “There are some errors in the report, but were immediately corrected within an hour of being released. on the collected information, also through very strict cross-validation and information screening, we will be able to write 2 more such articles.

Refer to Pingwest

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Source : Genk