The Tesla Model 3’s Test-Production Start Date Means it Might Be Late

Getty Images / Max Whittaker

On Thursday, sources within Tesla told Reuters that Elon Musk’s electric car company plans to start test production for the highly anticipated Model 3 on February 20. The affordable electric car is expected to begin full production in July, but unless Tesla has some seriously futuristic engineering tips up its sleeve, that date might be a little optimistic.

Based on the announcement of pilot production, there are two different schools of thought on whether Tesla will hit its anticipated production date of July 1. Some think that Tesla still has a long way to go before the Model 3 is ready, and that the early test models will need a lot of work and refinement. The other school of thought expects the pilot production to just be getting the kinks out of mass-producing Model 3’s, and that there shouldn’t be many surprises in store for the line. Based on rough production timelines for other automakers, getting the production line ready in February for a July release is optimistic by at least a few months — particularly with Tesla’s history of overly-ambitous release dates.

In the Reuters announcement, sources from Tesla said that they will be halting production at the Tesla factory in Fremont for a week to get ready for Model 3 pilot production on February 20. The anonymous Tesla sources weren’t sure how many Model 3’s would be built in February, but speculated that it would only be a few as a test of the production line and parts.

Under normal circumstances, the fact that Reuters is calling this pilot production would mean that Tesla was just working on setting up the plant and testing how it would actually build the cars on a mass scale. For car companies working on a two-year production timeline, production testing happens about seven to eight months ahead of release, according to Sheetanshu Tyagi on Quora. That’s the most ambitious timeline — on a three-year timeline, Tesla could need 12 months still between setting up the plant and release.

The real question here is whether the design for the Model 3 has actually been finalized. Fans on Reddit’s Tesla Motors forum think that if it hasn’t, and the Model 3’s being produced in the next month are just mules — prototypes to test technology — Tesla is seriously behind schedule. On the other hand, there have been Model 3 mule sightings for a while now, so optimistic fans are hoping that the build is just to test the assembly lines for mass production.

Elon Musk has said that the Model 3 is easy to make, and it doesn’t have the complicated elements that slowed the release of the Model X. But even with the rosy-glasses production theory, five months is a seriously short time to nail down all the kinks in a new production line. We’re still in store for a third reveal about the Model 3 though, so maybe Musk has some engineering miracle in store for us.

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