A fire that has briefly disrupted operations at a Tesla plant in Fremont, California, has prompted the car-maker’s CEO Elon Musk to send a cryptic message, asking staff to be vigilant, in light of “another strange incident.”
The internal email from Musk, first reported by CNBC, revealed that a “small” fire broke out at a car body production line in the factory late Sunday, halting operations “for several hours.” Calling the blaze “a strange incident that was hard to explain,” Musk then appeared to suggest that the mishap might have been the result of malicious intent.
“Could just be a random event, but as [Intel co-founder] Andy Grove said, “Only the paranoid survive,” the electric car manufacturer’s CEO noted, before urging employees to “be on the alert for anything that’s not in the best interests of our company.”
In a tone highlighting the gravity of the matter, Musk asks workers to contact him directly if they don’t get any feedback otherwise. The fire resulted in no injuries; nor did it inflict substantial damage on equipment and nobody was present on the premises, Musk wrote, as cited in the report.
In a later update, CNBC cited another email, which was sent by Musk on Sunday, which claimed that a Tesla employee “had conducted quite extensive and damaging sabotage” against the company. The unnamed employee allegedly altered the code of the plant’s manufacturing operating system and exported data to third parties, the email claimed, adding that powerful players, including “Wall Street short-sellers” and “oil & gas companies” were not beyond playing dirty against Tesla.
The ‘unexplained’ incident follows a similar one at the plant in April, when a paint shop fire reportedly brought production to a halt for at least a full shift. Although Tesla argued that the fire was “small” and barely affected the operations, the workers cited by CNBC claimed that it was severe enough to burn down an entire section where Model 3s were being painted. However, Musk, who reportedly flew in to assess the damage, encouraged the staff to apply a quick fix and go on with production instead of putting it on hold.
The report on the latest fire comes as Tesla struggles to meet its CEO’s ambitious goal of churning out 5,000 Model 3 vehicles weekly. Earlier in June, Musk said that it was “highly likely”Tesla would reach the designated production rate by the end of this month.
In run-up to the latest fire incident, Musk had reiterated his push for a higher production rate, in an email titled “only 8 days left to reach 700 cars/day or 5k/week,” which he’d sent on Friday. In the letter calling for “radical improvements,” he stressed the need to “achieve sustained, 700+ per week on the body line,” vowing to be at the factory “almost 24/7” to oversee the process first-hand.
The electric car company and its CEO are facing a host of problems, including the need to cut costs to preserve capital in order to complete the orders for the Model 3, which has been touted as a mass-market product, as well as pending lawsuits over what some shareholders see as Musk’s poor management and enrichment at the company’s expense.
Tesla has yet to make its first profit, having accumulated some $2billion in debt last year. In a bid to “reduce costs and become profitable,” Musk last week announced a major round of layoffs that would affect some 9 percent of the company staff. The cuts will not affect those involved in the production, he stressed at the time.
Aside from its financial and performance woes, Tesla is now under increased scrutiny for a series of incidents in which several of its cars in the US and Europe burst into flames. Last week, a Tesla vehicle was again making headlines for all the wrong reasons, when US actress Mary McCormack wrote on Twitter that her husband’s electric car caught fire “out of the blue.” The video, showing the flames shooting underneath the car, went viral on social media.