Not even Elon Musk’s mother can jump the line to get a Tesla

Mother and son.
Mother and son.
Image: Reuters/Danny Moloshok
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The line to purchase a new Tesla Model 3 is long. On July 28, the first recipients of the vehicle—Tesla employees or those with close connections to the company—were handed the key(card)s to their new cars. But over 400,000 people have signed up to buy a Model 3, and the wait to receive one of Tesla’s $35,000 electric cars, billed as the carmaker’s first mass-market vehicle, is now expected to stretch 12 to 18 months.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk presents the Model 3 at the company’s Fremont factory on July 28.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk presents the Model 3 at the company’s Fremont factory on July 28.
Image: Tesla

Familial connections are allegedly not enough to jump the line. In a Sept. 27 interview with The New York Times, Maye Musk, CoverGirl’s most recent model and 69-year-old mother of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, reported that she had not received any special treatment.”I haven’t gotten the 3 yet,” she said. “I’m at around 300,000 [on the waiting list]. Even though I have good connections, I can’t jump the line.”

The company has been slowly ramping up Model 3 production from the 30 vehicles delivered in July to try to meet the predicted 1,500 total deliveries for the third quarter. Musk has said the company’s production will follow an S-curve with a slow build up, and rapid acceleration until plateauing at about 33,000 cars per month by 2018.

No modern car company has ever pulled off such a feat, especially one without experience manufacturing at scale. Tesla’s latest model, simpler and less luxurious than its premium predecessors,has a 220-mile range, five-seats, and can hit 131 miles per hour, and costs around the same as the median US car price. To get there, Tesla is skipping many of the incremental steps used by established carmakers when launching new products. Instead of testing relatively cheap, prototype manufacturing tools before replacing them with more pricey equipment, Tesla is moving straight to the permanent tooling.

Tesla runs the risk that something in the production process goes awry and triggers expensive recalls or delays for the 500,000 cars or so Tesla expects to produce each year. That’s a scenario that could jeopardize the company’s future. If so, a wait time of just 18 months will, in retrospect, sound great.