Elon Musk Says Tesla Faced ‘Severe Threat of Death’ During Model 3 Ramp Up

Tesla faced a “severe threat of death” amid Tesla Model 3’s production ramp up, CEO Elon Musk said in an interview aired Sunday. The company’s newest electric vehicle, aimed at a mass market with its cheapest-ever starting price of $35,000, left Tesla in a tough position as it worked to increase production at breakneck speed.

In August 2017, one month after the car entered production, Tesla faced a backlog of 455,000 reservations worth $1,000 each waiting to be converted into cars starting from $35,000. Tesla set a goal of reaching 5,000 cars per week by December 2017, far more than the 2,000 Model S and X cars the firm was also producing. The company missed this goal, only reaching the figure in June 2018. Musk told Axios that the company “was bleeding money like crazy” during this period, claiming that the company came within “single-digit weeks” of complete shutdown.

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Tesla faced a number of issues during this period. The company relied on heavy automation at the start of production, but this caused several issues that led to slower-than-expected plant likes. Musk admitted in April that “excessive automation…was a mistake.” Musk said during Sunday’s interview that the pressure was on to get the lines moving as fast as possible, saying that “if we didn’t solve these problems in a very short period of time, we would die”

Musk also said that his nights working to resolve these issues took their toll, saying that “no one should put these many hours into work,” describing it as “very painful” and that it “hurts my brain and my heart.” Musk made similar comments back in August, where he told the New York Times that he was working 120-hour weeks, all-nighters at the factory on his birthday, taking Ambien just to get to sleep.

Although Musk has joked before about Tesla going “bankwupt,” he’s also noted that Tesla and Ford are the only two American automakers to never declare bankruptcy. As the company prepares to unveil the Model Y next spring, it’s perhaps a relief to Musk that the new vehicle won’t constitute another “bet the company” moment.

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Media via Tesla