► Tesla's Euro base raise production
► CAR goes inside Tilburg plant
► Output doubles for Model S, X
Tesla is ramping up European production of its Model S electric supersaloon, with a bigger assembly facility in the Netherlands. The American start-up today threw open the doors of its Tilburg plant, which is doubling European output from 200 to 450 cars per week. The aim is to reduce delivery times for British and European customers, boost quality, and give Tesla a European foothold making the Model S and the forthcoming Model X SUV.
Tilburg, Tesla's first plant outside the US, isn't like traditional car factories, and not just because it makes pure electric vehicles. The single story hangar, around the size of 11 football pitches, doesn't press steel, weld sections, or paint bodies. Indeed, the Model S cars arrive four to a container, looking pretty much fully formed from the mothership factory in Fremont, California. The interior is completely trimmed, but the rear subframe is a dummy unit, and the battery pack and drivetrain aren't installed – they're in a separate container, for safety reasons.
Each Tesla is placed on an automated dolly, which genteely glides around the factory like Dr Who's robot dog K9, following a magnetic path under the floor. Each Tesla's wheels come off, the actual subframe complete with drive motor goes in, followed by the battery pack. Separate stations then fill the car with fluids, test the AC and DC charging systems and check the suspension is aligned. After the headlamps, forward facing camera and radar system are verified and a brake and roll test completed on a rolling road, the car is released for a road test like no other.
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Inside Tesla's European factory
Tesla is rather proud of its 750m-long test track, which is contained entirely within the factory, much like the way BMW runs cars around the perimeter inside its Frankfurt motor show stand. Teslas rumble across teeth-rattling Belgian pavé, before hitting 110kph – just over 60mph – down the back straight. 'Not many manufacturers have a test track inside!' jokes Gilbert Passin, VP of manufacturing in Tilburg and Fremont. 'We have no emissions so it's easy for us, and it gives us consistent, dry conditions.'
The Tilburg plant provides a European capacity of more than 20,000 cars a year, from a single shift, and the existing equipment – which was exported wholesale from the Fremont factory – can handle a second shift too. The plant gives a significant boost to Tesla's volumes: last year the firm assembled 35,000 cars, which is expected to climb to 55,000 this year. But the Netherlands plant is still constrained by production at Fremont, given that there is minimal local supplier base and zero ground-up production here.
Tesla has big plans to become a 500,000 annual car company though by 2020: the 2017 Model 3 – a BMW 3-series saloon rival which is tipped to cost around $35,000 – will play a major role in that. 'The Model 3 is a bit different,' says plant chief Passin, 'because the platform size is different. We can assemble it here, but there will need to be more adaptation.'