Bob Lutz, a former top executive from all three of the major American automakers, occasional Corvette-powered Fisker investor, and casual skeptic of Tesla, recently came across a Tesla Model 3 and was surprised to be impressed by its build quality.
I didn’t have room to mention up there that Lutz also occasionally contributes to Road & Track, his latest contribution detailing this run-in with a random Model 3 on the street—a car known for its reported production and quality issues.
Here’s how Bob explains the experience:
When I spied a metallic-red Model 3 in an Ann Arbor parking lot, I felt compelled to check it out. I was eager to see the oft-reported sloppy assembly work, the poor-fitting doors, blotchy paint, and other manifestations of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s “production hell” with my own eyes.
But, when next to the car, I was stunned. Not only was the paint without any discernible flaw, but the various panels formed a body of precision that was beyond reproach. Gaps from hood to fenders, doors to frame, and all the others appeared to be perfectly even, equal side-to-side, and completely parallel. Gaps of 3.5 to 4.5mm are considered word-class. This Model 3 measured up.
Lutz points out that he hasn’t seen much of the Model 3 since it’s a little difficult to purchase in his home state of Michigan, which has a bunch of dealer legislation that prevents Tesla from selling its cars directly to customers.
We’ve reported on the Model 3's issues with panel gaps plenty of times in the past, so it’s only right to acknowledge when game recognizes game and a good example of Tesla craftsmanship makes it out of Fremont.
He also clarified that he’s still skeptical of Tesla and Elon Musk’s business practices, having previously speculated that the Model S would become a collectible car after Tesla eventually goes bankrupt.
As entertaining as it is to see Bob Lutz, known climate change skeptic, embrace Tesla’s products as quality performance vehicles, I appreciate his anecdotes even more. So I’ll leave you with a snippet about panel gaps from his time at GM:
I had assembled most of the GM products at the proving ground and flanked them with role models from Germany (surprisingly not the best), Japan (better, but second) and Korea (the world’s best.) I lead the cluster of proud GM execs from car to car until the enormous, Harley-jacketed Joe Spielman—then president of assembly—literally grabbed me by the collar and said “Enough of this crap! Just show me what you want, and I’ll get it for you, guaranteed!” The initial story was that it would take time, and millions for new assembly equipment, which I was ready to approve.
Strangely, within a few months, all GM vehicles were within striking distance of the world’s best (and still are today.) And I never saw the request for capital. Years later, I asked Spielman how that had happened. “Well,” he explained, “when we discussed it with the lower-level operating supervisors and the skilled-trade hourly folks, they told us they could do it... it’s just nobody has ever asked for it before, so they didn’t think it mattered.”
There’s never enough story time with Bob. Go check out the full anecdote from the article on Road & Track.