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July 22nd, 2013
Once, all of Tesla Motors' electric cars were hand-assembled "alpha builds." Now the Model S is rolling off a high tech production line in a factory located in Fremont, California. Wired Magazine got a behind-the-scenes tour of the 5 million-square-foot facility to see how co-founder and CEO Elon Musk builds the most advanced production car on the planet. To keep costs low, Musk bought the factory from Toyota instead of building it from scratch. Then he spent about a year setting up systems and tooling it before starting production of the Model S sedan in mid-2012. The renovation looks like the spotless clean-room of a semiconductor factory, where 160 robots are a commanding part of the production line, quickly completing tasks like cutting metal, welding and shaping; some are so sophisticated they can perform three different tasks before the partially assembled car moves on. Tesla also has a complement of humans – 3,000 doing the more detailed work. (So for us humans, well-developed fine motor skills are the key to long term employment at Tesla.) But perhaps the most impressive thing about the factory is that Tesla's Model S starts as raw materials – rolls of sheet metal - and almost all of the parts are made in-house. This state of the art production line effortlessly cranks out 400 cars a week and will eventually produce as many as 20,000 a year.