Tesla's Project Highland Name Hints at Henry Ford's Mass-Manufacturing Revolution

Tesla is working on a refreshed Model 3 under the Project Highland codename, and we’ve already seen prototypes of the new model testing on public roads. Although the design might not change much, the next Model 3 would be an entirely new car underneath. According to Adam Jonas from Morgan Stanley, the project’s name also hints at Ford’s mass manufacturing revolution.
Tesla’s Project Highland name hints at Henry Ford’s mass-manufacturing revolution 8 photos
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The Ford Assembly Line in 1913Morgan Stanley report on TeslaTesla FremontTesla FremontTesla FremontTesla Model 3 Refresh prototype spotted with intriguing front modificationsTesla Model 3 Refresh prototype spotted with intriguing front modifications
Tesla surprised almost everybody with its recent price cuts, not because they weren’t expecting price cuts, but because no one imagined Tesla would cut that deep into its margins. The sluggish demand toward the end of 2022 was a textbook case for price adjustments. But cutting more than 20% from the price of certain models in one move was seen (and still is) as unprecedented. Nevertheless, it happened before, when Henry Ford introduced the Model T and re-invented mass manufacturing.

Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas analyzed Ford’s price cuts in the early years of the 20th century. Jonas saw that the Model T “Runabout” price dropped from $825 in 1909 (around $24,000 in today’s dollars) to $260 in 1925 ($3,790 in today’s dollars). Consider that pre-Model T cars cost around $80k in today’s dollars on average, and you’ll see why Ford produced quite a shock 110 years ago. A shock so big that it wiped many carmakers off the map. In 1907, the last full year before the Ford Model T launch, there were 255 carmakers in the U.S. By 1929, only 44 carmakers survived, with 80% of sales in the U.S. accounted for by GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

According to Adam Jonas, this onslaught wasn’t caused by the Model T itself being ground-breaking at the time. Instead, it was the manufacturing revolution Henry Ford pioneered. Ford introduced its moving-assembly line at the Highland Park, Michigan factory in 1913, which changed everything. Coincidentally, this sounds a lot like Tesla’s Project Highland today, especially as we know that Tesla is looking to make the Model 3 much easier to produce.

Despite his controversial personality, Elon Musk is seen today as visionary as Henry Ford was a century ago. And although Jim Farley is trying to follow Tesla today, it looks like Tesla wants to follow Ford from the 1900s. Nevertheless, with all the price cuts introduced earlier in January and producing the most EVs in the world, Tesla is yet to achieve a manufacturing revolution. But that is set to change.

Musk loves easter eggs, and that’s why naming the refreshed Model 3 project “Highland” was not fortuitous. The Model 3’s complete overhaul will likely include its manufacturing, as Tesla wants to pursue aggressive cost-cutting measures. For some part, we know what to expect in assembly optimization, thanks to the fact that one-piece megacastings are already used for the Model Y production. For others, we must wait for the Tesla Investor day on March 1 to find out.

Musk was very bullish about Tesla’s prospects during the Q4 2022 earnings call, thanks to a solid product roadmap for the next years. He hinted at new products in development that “will blow people’s minds.” He also said that he couldn’t see competitors “with a telescope,” although this won’t last forever. It sure didn’t last for Ford.

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About the author: Cristian Agatie
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After his childhood dream of becoming a "tractor operator" didn't pan out, Cristian turned to journalism, first in print and later moving to online media. His top interests are electric vehicles and new energy solutions.
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