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Mind the gap: how Teslas will get better

By Alex Rae, 29 Mar 2019 News

Mind the gap: how Teslas will get better

Industry expert explains the pain of fixing Tesla’s panel gap problems

Inconsistent panel gaps are unsightly things. It’s a bit like colouring in over the line – once you know it’s there it can’t be unseen. Tesla has been a bit of a regular panel-gap culprit in the motoring world, not quite up to the tightly-toleranced standard you’d expect from most of the well-oiled machines from Germany and Japan.

And it’s something we at Wheels have noticed, even on the usually meticulously inspected press car. But apparently there’s a fix in the works.

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In the meantime, all is not rosy when it comes to Tesla repairs. Speaking to Wheels, a certified auto body repair specialist with an arsenal of expensive OEM repair tools, including manufacturer provided repair rigs and specifications for every part and panel, claims that Teslas can be an absolute nightmare in the shop.

Training across the globe to learn special techniques required by each manufacture to work on that car, the technician says that panel gaps – in particular on the Model X – can be so far out of whack that properly repaired sections (repaired to exact methods) can be a challenge to align when the factory job is outside of the supplied spec.

“Yes, they [precise tolerances and specifications] are all in the methods, when you get the methods, you can get any gap you want,” they said.

“Of course, they are all completely different. If you look at a Model X here [in the workshop] and a Model X we’ve got downstairs or anything like that, the gaps are very different.

Read more: 2019 Tesla Model 3 First Drive: Australian Exclusive

“A [training] course I’ve been on, there were a couple of people from California, and they’ve had nothing but trouble with them because they are all different and you can’t really go off [what’s there]. Obviously the customer hasn’t picked that up before it has gone in for repair.

“Basically we would then just refer to the methods and the methods say this is 4mm, that’s 4mm.

“So that’s what we’re working with already you know, a car comes in and it’s already wrong from factory and we’ve got to, you know, make it work.”

However, Tesla has recognised it requires better methods to fix inconsistencies in production, vowing to fix its Model 3 to be ten times better than any other car in the world.

“Most of the design tolerances of the Model 3 are already better than any other car in the world,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in an email to staff.

“Soon, they will all be better. This is not enough. We will keep going until the Model 3 build precision is a factor of ten better than any other car in the world. I am not kidding. Our car needs to be designed and built with such accuracy and precision that, if an owner measures dimensions, panel gaps, and flushness, and their measurements don’t match the Model 3 specs, it just means that their measuring tape is wrong.”

Read more: Tesla came within weeks of death: Elon Musk 

In a patent published late last year, Tesla cites issues with traditional panel clamping assembly that did not work with its unique design philosophy. It has created a new type of flexible clamp that will allow adjustment of panels to be consistent from the factory. Tesla explains in the patent that, “Attempting to use a traditional clamp to secure two parts that must have some play between them may introduce unsightly gaps and/or overlaps between the parts, reducing the aesthetic appearance upon assembly.”

The surging start-up US electric car maker changed the automotive industry in the short 15 years it has been in existence. But as brilliant as its electrification of the automobile has been, the ability to produce cars has so far been its Achilles heel. That may well be about to change.