Elon Musk ordered Tesla engineers to stop doing a critical brake test on Model 3s

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk ordered his employees to stop putting nearly finished Model 3s through a critical test before leaving the company’s factory in Fremont, California, according to an internal document viewed by Business Insider.
  • It’s called the brake-and-roll test, and it ensures the car is correctly aligned.
  • An industry expert told Business Insider that every automaker does this test to ensure quality and function.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk appears to have asked engineers at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, to remove a standard brake test, called the brake-and-roll test, from the tasks Model 3 cars must complete to move through production, according to internal documents seen by Business Insider.

The test was apparently shut down before 3 a.m. on June 26, according to a person familiar with the matter. It’s unclear why this particular test was halted or for how long.

According to an industry expert, the brake-and-roll test is a critical part of the car manufacturing process, taking place during its final stages. The test ensures that the car’s wheels are perfectly aligned and checks the brakes and their function by taking the vehicle’s engine up to certain revolutions per minute and observing how they react on diagnostic machines.

In a statement, a Tesla representative, Dave Arnold, told Business Insider that every car goes through “rigorous quality checks,” including brake tests.

When pressed on whether Musk himself gave the order to remove the brake-and-roll test, Arnold said, “I don’t have anything further beyond the statement.”

This is what the brake-and-roll test’s step looks like in Tesla’s internal production system.

brake and roll flowstep

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Business Insider

The far-left column shows what step the car has reached in the manufacturing process and what tasks must be done there.

The two key columns here are the ones labeled “critical” and “blocking.” According to an employee at the company, they show it is apparently no longer necessary for the car to undergo this test before it leaves this step of the manufacturing process.

On the far right are all the descriptions of the tasks that should be performed at this station. However, since the criticality and blocking are off, the car can leave the station whether those tasks are performed or not, the employee said.

It’s not clear how many cars, if any, have left the station without doing this test.

Quality issues

Ron Harbour, a consultant at Oliver Wyman who founded and writes “The Harbour Report,” a worldwide guide to manufacturing, told Business Insider that after everything is installed in a car during the manufacturing process, a manufacturer would have to be very lucky for everything on a car to be in alignment.

“If you just abandon [the test], you could potentially have a lot of quality issues with your customers,” he said. “Every plant does that … It’s part of finishing the build of the car.”

Harbour told Business Insider he was unaware of any test that could adequately replace the brake-and-roll test on a manufacturing line.

“To be extremely clear, we drive *every* Model 3 on our test track to verify braking, torque, squeal, and rattle,” Arnold said in a statement. “There are no exceptions.”

Musk has for weeks been in a race against time, trying to ramp up production of the company’s much-anticipated Model 3 to 5,000 cars a week. On Monday, Tesla announced it had “factory gated” 5,000 cars the week before, reaching its goal.

The employee Business Insider spoke with said the factory-gate distinction is important. They said it means the company most likely reached its goal by finishing cars that had already been through the production line the previous week but were held back for rework, then readying them for factory gating.

Arnold disputed that notion, saying Tesla has been consistent in how it reports its numbers.

He said: “A small number of cars are built during a week but factory-gated the following week, just as a small number of cars built the prior week may not be factory-gated until the following week. Both of those points are true for this last week of production, just as it is true every week. We are reporting our production numbers the same way as we always have.”

Tesla also announced that it made 28,578 Model 3s in the second quarter. However, Business Insider has viewed internal documents showing that as of last Wednesday the company had planned to hit 36,020 Model 3s in the second quarter. Tesla declined to comment on this figure.

At that point, the carmaker had made fewer than 11,000 of the cars in June and just under 26,000 in the second quarter, putting it on track to fall below a plan of 36,020.

If you are a Tesla employee or customer who has a story to share about their car or experience with the company, give me a shout at llopez@businessinsider.com.