Peter Hochholdinger is coming to Tesla after a two-decade-long career at Audi where most recently he led the manufacturing programs of the A4, A5 and Q5 vehicles. Hochholdinger joined Tesla as VP of Vehicle Production overseeing the Model S and Model X production lines and logistics, as well as leading the Model 3 manufacturing program.
He recently gave his first interview since taking over the role and he admits to being very impressed by what Tesla has accomplished so far. He describes the company’s vehicles as being “about seven years beyond everything I’ve seen before”.
In the interview published in this month’s issue of the Manufacturing Leadership Journal, Hochholdinger explains how Tesla CEO Elon Musk convinced him to leave Audi after 22 years and join Tesla:
“The cars we build are about seven years beyond everything I’ve seen before, and it’s quite thrilling and exciting to be here and to be part of this car manufacturing group. It’s the only company in the world that builds 100 percent electric vehicles; everybody else is continuing with the normal business of building [internal combustion] cars, and I think that will not work.”
The interview appears to be meant to attract more talent to Tesla’s manufacturing team, Hochholdinger mentions on a couple of occasions that they are hiring, but it also explains his manufacturing philosophy. Throughout the interview, he describes a vision of Tesla’s future production very similar to what we have been hearing from Musk over the past few months: “the machine that makes the machine.”
He gives his own definition of the expression:
“It’s about density and speed and putting more automation into, for example, general assembly. General assembly in a car manufacturer today is quite labor-driven, of course. That’s more or less because of the product design.”
He elaborated the product design saying that Tesla is doing some deep collaboration between engineering and manufacturing in order to design parts with simple production in mind. He gave an interesting example:
“There’s no way for a robot to install a harness today because the harness is not designed for a robot’ it’s designed for a human being. So we have to think about what can a harness look like so that a robot can install it? What about a fascia? Can I do it in a different way? So, these are things we have to think about, and that’s the machine that makes the machine.”
Hochholdinger claims that “Tesla is the first automotive company to think that way”. While he praises Tesla for thinking more like Silicon Valley than a traditional automaker in that regard, he says that he will still be bringing over ideas from his long career at Audi. Namely, the idea that logistics and manufacturing “belong together”.
He sees opportunities to improve collaboration between manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics. He compared a “smart supply chain” to an airport:
“If I know exactly where the truck is at the moment, as it is coming to the factory, then I know exactly which dock it should be at in 30 minutes or 40 minutes. Is that dock clear? Are people there to take over that truck?
It’s like when a plane is flying into San Francisco International Airport. They know exactly which gate it will be at, and they know exactly when the approach is, and they know exactly where it comes from, and they know exactly when does it leave the airport and where does it go.
A factory is like an airport: Materials are coming in and trucks are leaving, so we know exactly which gates we should be at.”
Hochholdinger sees this as an important aspect of Tesla’s upcoming ramp up in production with the Model 3. Tesla is now producing vehicles at a rate of roughly 100,000 per year. Now Tesla wants a 5x increase in order to produce 500,000 vehicles per year within the first year of Model 3 production. It will complicate the material flow at Tesla’s Fremont factory.
The new VP of Vehicle Production admits that Tesla’s production goals are keeping him up at night, but he says that’s not unusual in manufacturing. We recently learned that Hochholdinger will have an even bigger factory in which to implement his new production strategy as Tesla unveiled plans last week to double the size of the plant.