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Tesla hit a major production milestone — but will have to keep that going before it can be a ‘real car company’

Tesla made 7,000 cars last week. Ford can do that in a few hours.

Hundreds of Tesla workers outside the Tesla factory Tesla

If Tesla is going to join the ranks of the world’s biggest car companies, it has to get a lot better at making a lot of cars.

This is one of the areas where Elon Musk has consistently come up short. And he’s recently taken up living at a Tesla factory for stretches while the company endures “production hell” to meet an important, self-imposed goal to produce 5,000 of its Model 3 cars in a week.

As Musk would have it, Tesla just became a real car company. This past weekend, Tesla effectively met that goal. The company announced it produced 7,000 cars in total, including 5,031 Model 3s.

But getting to that production rate wasn’t easy. In fact, the deadline to meet that goal was pushed back a number of times — Musk originally aimed to reach that goal by the end of 2017. Tesla also went to great lengths to achieve it, including constructing a tent to accommodate an additional assembly line outside of the factory.

Still, it’s a milestone worth celebrating for Tesla, which is trying to make the difficult transition from a luxury car maker to the mass market.

And relative to other, larger carmakers, a 7,000-per-week production rate isn’t exactly impressive. According to Ford executive Steven Armstrong, via Twitter, Ford produces 7,000 cars in around four hours.

The true test of Tesla as a “real car company” will be whether Musk can consistently increase that production rate — especially given how difficult it was to get here in the first place — while building high-quality vehicles without sacrificing worker safety.

The company also needs to be able to eventually come through on its promise to sell and ship the lower-priced, $35,000 Model 3; so far, it has only produced higher-priced versions. In May, Musk said base-model Model 3 production would need to wait another three to six months — after reaching the 5,000 cars per week production rate — if the company wanted to survive.

Tesla’s transition to a mass-market manufacturer is a critical part of Musk’s vision for a fully electrified future. From missed deadlines to voluntary recalls, it’s been a bumpy transition.

It also remains expensive. The company lost a record $710 million on $3.4 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2018. Still, Musk has said the company will be profitable in the third and fourth quarters of 2018.

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