Just as Tesla’s cars don’t feel like anything from Detroit, the California factory that produces the company’s upcoming Model S electric sedan is inspired as much by Tesla’s high-tech neighbors in Silicon Valley as by a typical auto plant. In particular, Tesla is obsessive about taking care of details itself—whether it’s forming the cars’ bodies from scratch or making tools for the robots that build the vehicles.
A finished Model S will start at just under $50,000; fully loaded Signature models will cost about $98,000. Given that price, some doubt that Tesla’s approach, cool or not, is viable in the long term. “Look at the [Chevrolet] Volt,” says Jay Baron, president of the Center for Automotive Research. “That’s not selling, and that’s at $40,000. I would see the future as being very challenging for Tesla.” Passin sounds confident nonetheless: “Not one day goes by when [Tesla cofounder] Elon Musk doesn’t remind me—as if I would forget—that this factory is capable of making half a million vehicles a year. There’s no doubt in my mind that this factory is going to be full, sooner rather than later.”