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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two years ago, Elon Musk was lamenting that Tesla was mired in "production hell." Now, he's singing a different tune.

"I just want to be clear, at Tesla, we love manufacturing. It's awesome, and I really think more smart people should be working on manufacturing."

Why it matters: Musk's about-face comes as Tesla is stomping on the accelerator to meet global demand for its electric vehicles, adding production capacity on three continents.

"Just think about the next 12 to 18 months. We'll have three new factories in place. ... There's so much to be excited about," Musk told investors on Wednesday's earnings call.

Flashback: Musk once vowed Tesla's super-automated factories would resemble an "alien dreadnought."

  • He even bragged to industry analysts in early 2018 that Tesla would school Toyota on lean manufacturing, but later admitted to overreaching on factory automation and production targets for its Model 3.

Now, Tesla's manufacturing seems to be on track — and getting better.

  • The company managed to produce more than 82,000 vehicles in the second quarter, despite a six-week shutdown of its Fremont, California, factory due to the coronavirus.
  • Tesla rapidly ramped up production of Model 3 in China, where it learned lessons about how to redesign the underpinnings of the Model Y to make it even easier to manufacture at its next plant, in Germany.
  • "We're getting way better at making cars," Musk said, and lauding manufacturing engineering as an exciting profession with a bad rap.

Yes, but: Tesla is still dogged by quality problems, and its cars lag behind other U.S. auto brands in J.D. Power's 2020 Initial Quality Survey of issues reported in the first three months of ownership.

  • Common problems include paint imperfections and poorly fitting body panels, according to J.D. Power.

The bottom line: Tesla's long-term competitive advantage won't be its cars, but its efficient manufacturing techniques, says Musk.

Go deeper

Oct 20, 2020 - Economy & Business

GM to invest more than $2 billion in U.S. to expand electric vehicles

The battery-powered Cadillac Lyriq, coming in 2022.

General Motors said Tuesday it will invest $2 billion to renovate a Tennessee factory for electric vehicle production, starting with the Cadillac Lyriq in 2022.

Why it matters: The Spring Hill assembly plant near Nashville will become GM's third U.S. manufacturing site for electric vehicles in a bet-the-company pivot away from conventional gasoline-powered cars and trucks.

  • GM plans to unveil at least 20 new EVs globally by 2023, including the GMC Hummer electric pickup truck, which will be unveiled later Tuesday.

Trump grants flurry of last-minute pardons

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

President Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals early Wednesday, 11 hours from leaving office.

Why it matters: It's a last-minute gift to some of the president's loyalists and an evident use of executive power with only hours left of his presidency. Axios reported in December that Trump planned to grant pardons to "every person who ever talked to me."

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty

Shortly after pardoning members of Congress and lobbyists convicted on corruption charges, President Trump revoked an executive order barring former officials from lobbying for five years after leaving his administration.

Why it matters: The order, which was signed eight days after he took office, was an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to "drain the swamp."

  • But with less than 12 hours left in office, Trump has now removed those limitations on his own aides.