The indignity! Tesla Model 3 could be out-produced by “fool cell” Mirai this year

Mirai production in Motomachi, capacity 3,000 units per year

Californian carmaker Tesla is close to suffering yet another insult. The company infamously managed to deliver only 220 of its more affordable Model 3 in the two months since production was kicked-off with great fanfare. Should Tesla remain on that pace – and an article by my partner Ed Niedermeyer paints that as a strong possibility –  the allegedly mass-produced Tesla Model 3 could be out-produced by Toyota’s lowest-volume car, the hydrogen fuel cell Mirai.

The Mirai is hand-made in Toyota’s Motomachi plant, on the same line where an even lower volume car was produced until late 2012, the Lexus LFA supercar. The rather small shop in the sprawling Motomachi complex has an annual capacity of 3,000 units. Watch the video, and you will get a feel for the sedate pace of a mostly manual assembly.


 

Back from an extensive visit to Motomachi three years ago, I still have a few contacts in the plant, and I asked one of them what the chances are of Toyota out-producing the Model 3 with the very low-volume Mirai.

“If Tesla maintains its graceful pace of some 130 a month, for sure we will have made more Mirai this year by end of December,” said my Toyota tipster. While Tesla is waiting for a highly-automated body line that is being developed near Detroit for delivery sometime next year, the speed of Tesla’s Model 3 production should be limited to 250 units a month, Dave Sullivan, an analyst at AutoPacific, told Daily Kanban.  Even if Tesla would be able to raise that to 500 a month, and even if Toyota might produce a little under 3,000 Mirai – a strong possibility due to the lack of hydrogen infrastructure, said the man in Motomachi – the Model 3 might still end the year behind the Mirai, beaten by a car Tesla’s Elon Musk repeatedly denigrated as powered by “fool cells.”

Come next year, Tesla should have removed the smudge on its face. From the Mirai’s launch in late 2014 through August of this year, Toyota put some 4,000 units of the hydrogen car on the world’s roads, Toyota’s Tokyo-based spokesperson Zahra Auliannisa Bale tells me. 1.970 of the 4,000 Mirai went to the U.S., most of the rest remained in Japan. A handful reached Europe.