Elon Musk calls Ford 'morgue'; Ford fires back

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News
Tesla CEO Elon Musk

Tesla is building cars in a tent outside its factory to try to hit a self-imposed Saturday deadline to make 5,000 Model 3 sedans per week. But CEO Elon Musk told The Wall Street Journal that the company is operating with better energy than Ford Motor Co., where he says it's "like a morgue."

Ford didn't take that barb lying down.

"No doubt the vibe is funky in that 'makeshift tent,' but it’s not bad either across the street at the #FordRouge plant where a high quality, high-tech F-150 rolls off the line every 53 seconds like clockwork," Ford Vice President of Communications Mark Truby tweeted on Thursday morning. "Come check it out @elonmusk."

Ford and other automakers crank out thousands of vehicles a day in multiple factories around the country — and those vehicles mostly generate profit. That manufacturing prowess and profitability are two factors automakers have held above Tesla in recent years as Tesla repeatedly missed deadlines and burned through cash. Yet, Ford and General Motors Co. have failed to generate the same excitement on Wall Street as Tesla.

Musk — who recently pitched a 200-yard-long tent outside its plant in Fremont, California, to build its Model 3 sedans — told the Journal, "I’m feeling good about things. I think there’s a good vibe — I think the energy is good; go to Ford, it looks like a morgue."

Musk said in early June that his teams would hit Model 3 production targets by the end of the month. The Model 3 was supposed to take the company into the mainstream and help it churn a profit.

Tesla typically reports sales and production figures a few days after the close of the quarter, which means the automaker could announce whether it met its mark as early as next week.

The company has failed to meet multiple deadlines for that vehicle; Musk had planned to make the $35,000 Model 3 at a rate of 400,000 a year by now. The company reported in May that prior to a mid-April plant shutdown, it produced more than 2,000 Model 3 vehicles per week for three straight weeks.

Musk has said the company wants to make 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week this summer. With a base sticker price of $35,000, it would be the affordable, mass-produced electric car that propels the company as it ventures into semi and pickup trucks.

But Tesla's struggles to ramp up production have caused the company's value to slip over the last year. Less than a year ago, Tesla was briefly valued higher than General Motors Co.; the company eclipsed Ford around that same time. Tesla shares have slipped over the past year, opening Thursday 3.3 percent lower compared to the same time a year ago. The stock was trading up Thursday morning following the publication of the Wall Street Journal report.

Tesla repeatedly missed production target dates for the Model 3 sedan. Multiple Teslas involved in fatal crashes in the last few months had the Autopilot driver-assistance system activated at the time of the crash.

Thursday was not the first time the Detroit Three has pointed to its own production numbers to counter claims from the Silicon Valley newcomer.

The Tesla fumbles have prompted Ford and other automakers to lean into engineering and manufacturing prowess. Both companies have given media tours of U.S. facilities in recent months. Ford brought reporters inside its Kentucky Truck Plant in February to show how its lines making the company's largest trucks and SUVs churn out a yearly average of 1,000 vehicles per day.

Nearly a year ago, Musk promised the company would produce 20,000 Model 3 sedans by December 2017. The company missed that target, and subsequent production targets for that vehicle.

The company did not respond to Detroit News request for comment about when it would report whether it reached the 5,000-unit per week goal by Saturday.


Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau