say Tesla has experienced at least four fires in its paint shop in
the last four years, and that sprinklers and air filtration
systems are clogged with paint.
in the paint shop contributed to sluggish Model 3 production,
some employees say, and fumes there are leaving them concerned
about their health.
Berger | Bloomberg | Getty Images
employee works on a Telsa Motors Model S sedan as it makes its
way along an assembly line at company's assembly plant in
has had at least four fires in the paint shop at its Fremont,
California, factory since 2014, according to five people
familiar with operations at that plant.
reportedfire, in April, was serious
enough to stop Model 3 production for multiple shifts that week,
these people said. Another fire took place in January 2016 and
caused at least a day of suspended vehicle production. Both
fires damaged expensive equipment.
people blamed the fires in part on improper cleaning,
maintenance and insufficient training for new employees in the
face of high pressure to meet production goals. Two current
employees said they were concerned about their health because of
fire hazards and poor air quality. All the people agreed that
the April fire contributed to slowing down Model 3 production.
Tesla spokesperson denied that the April fire was "significant"
or had any impact on Model 3 production, and said:
recent months, we have further enhanced the safety and
efficiency of our paint shop, including significant upgrades
to equipment, as well as an extensive maintenance effort
involving cleaning and calibration. In order to protect the
health of our employees, we also conduct regular air
monitoring and have proper ventilation and personal protective
equipment for everyone who works in the paint shop."
future as a mass-market carmaker hinges on efficient, high
volume production of the Model 3, the company's lowest-priced
offering so far. WhenTeslaunveiled
the Model 3 in 2016, CEOElon
Musksaid it would be able to produce 100,000 to 200,000
Model 3 cars by the end of 2017 with a base price of $35,000.
Tesla produced just 2,685 Model 3s in total for all of 2017.
also missed its goal of producing 2,500 Model 3s per week by
March 31, 2018. So far, the company has sold only premium
versions of the Model 3, which cost $44,000 to $78,000.
shop issues are still hampering Tesla's progress with Model 3
production, according to current employees and other people
familiar with Tesla's paint shop. They requested anonymity
because they have not been authorized to speak to the media.
Georgeson | Harvest Films
first deliveries of the Tesla Model 3 on July 29, 2017.
a paint shop firehalted
vehicle productionaround 7 a.m. on
April 3, a Tesla spokesperson said the fire was "small" and
extinguished by internal teams in a matter of seconds.
employees told CNBC the fire was significant enough to stop work
for at least a full shift on that day. The shop was also shut
down for at least one more shift two days later. It also forced
Tesla to decommission two burnt sprayer robots that they
estimated were worth over $1 million.
fire happened just after the company's head of vehicle
engineering, Doug Field, who isnow
on leave, sent out an e-mail encouraging employees to "prove
the haters wrong." In that spirit, and under management's
direction, paint shop crews worked on.
week of the fire, according to two employees and two other
people familiar with Tesla's Fremont factory, Musk showed up to
assess damage to the paint shop. The fire had burnt an entire
zone dedicated to painting Model 3s.
than suspending operations immediately, Musk and others
encouraged teams to fix what they could and push through.
Model 3 parts, including B-pillars and chassis components, which
had been in the paint shop at the time, were moved into a
containment area, visually inspected and put back into
production, rather than being scrapped or further tested for
damages, employees said.
emphasized that no damaged parts were used in new vehicle
scrambled to repurpose equipment in the paint shop that week so
that robots could be used to put primer on both the interior and
exterior surfaces of Model 3 vehicles. Before the fire, separate
robots handled interior and exterior primer application.
handled the April 3 fire with its own internal brigade. It did
not report it to the Fremont Fire Department, a spokesperson for
the department confirmed.
a citizen did call after seeing reports about the fire on social
media that day, the fire department spokesperson said. Tesla
security greeted a fire department battalion chief who went to
investigate and said the department had no internal reports of
fire at the facility, the spokesperson said. The chief toured
the exterior of the Fremont factory looking for signs of fire,
and seeing nothing but a "cloud formation" outside, left without
going inside, according to the spokesperson.
week and a half later, Tesla announced it wasshutting
downits Fremont factory operations
temporarily to make some improvements. (Tesla also shut down its
factory for a week in May for planned upgrades.)
maintenance and production pressure reported
like these are not common in auto manufacturing. It is
especially uncommon for a plant to have multiple fires in a
to the most recent available data from theNational
Fire Protection Association, local fire departments
respond to 190 fires per year on average in maintenance or paint
shop areas of factories and processing facilities. That is just
4 percent of fires that occur in all of manufacturing.
rate of paint-shop fires in auto plants is far lower than that,
says Jason Reason, a former OSHA officer and senior vice
president of safety and health atLewellyn
the most part, corporations know how to control fire hazards
associated with spraying operations, and work to establish a
safety culture," said Reason. "If you're having multiple fires,
you really need to audit your paint shop and make sure it never
happens again, even if that means redesigning the whole thing."
spokesperson for GM manufacturing, Dan Flores, noted: "At GM, we
would consider a fire in a paint shop an extremely rare
occurrence — that's because our paint shops operate in a very
Tesla employees say that vehicle production goals have been the
highest priority in recent months, sometimes at the expense of
fire and environmental considerations. They said, for example,
that months before the April fire, the sprinkler heads were
clogged and coated at least an inch thick of paint and
clear-coat. Filters below the paint booths and exhaust systems
that clean and carry air into and out of the building were also
visibly coated, they added.
former paint shop employee said associates there are given
minimal training — just what they need to meet OSHA safety
requirements — before they are put to work on jobs that need
more specialized skills. The result is that while Tesla has
invested in state-of-the-art equipment, these inexperienced
employees don't follow best practices. The result: botched jobs
and a potentially unsafe environment, according to the former
employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
are hopeful things may soon change. Since early April, Tesla has
replaced some sprinkler heads, and put out a request for quotes
on new air filtration equipment.
earnings callin May, Musk plainly
acknowledged that the paint shop at Tesla's Fremont factory
poses a risk to mass-production of the Model 3 electric sedan.