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Tesla’s Australian connection

Hot seat: Australian-based company Futuris makes seats for Tesla out of its US factory.

Futuris, seat-maker for Tesla, ready to ramp up production as sales soar

30 Sep 2013

SALES of the Tesla Model S luxury EV are booming in the US, and Port Melbourne-based car-seat manufacturer Futuris Automotive is reaping the rewards.

The Australian-based company operates a factory in California build under the roof of Tesla’s Fremont factory that produces the seats for increasingly popular and critically-acclaimed grand tourer – and it may not stop there.

In the first half of 2013, Tesla sold more cars in California than Land Rover, Jaguar, Lincoln, Volvo or Porsche. The only luxury cars that outsold the Model S were the Mercedes-Benz E Class and the BMW 5 Series.

The good news from California is helping to offset the slide in sales from the company’s Australian operations, where it supplies Toyota, GM Holden and Ford.

Futuris also has operations in China, Thailand and South Africa.

“It’s pretty exciting at the moment, with lots of volume and operating on two shifts,” said Futuris chief executive Mark de Wit, in an interview with GoAuto last week.

Tesla originally planned to produce the Model S at a rate of 20,000 a year, but the plant is now producing 550 a week, a run rate of around 25,000 cars a year.

And the company has no plans to stop there, said Mr de Wit, telling us that: “We have been asked to look at far higher volumes over time”.

“Tesla is planning to lift production to 800 week by the end of 2014 by going slow and steady. That would get them to 40,000 a year,” he said.

Beyond growing the Model S’ footprint with a move into sales (and potentially final assembly) in Europe, sales in China and production of a right-hand drive version for Australia, Tesla has further announced plans to make an SUV based on the Model S platform.

The striking Model X, as the car will be called, gets a dramatic design with gull-wing doors for the rear seat passengers.

However, Mr de Wit said Tesla expected even stronger growth from 2017, when it will introduce a new model which will be about half the price of the base Model S, which starts at around $US65,000.

“The variant after Model X will be the all-new Model E, which will be much cheaper and is expected to sell in greater volumes again,” he said.

Mr de Wit said Tesla’s establishment of a final assembly operation at Tilburg, in the Netherlands, and the start of Model S sales in Europe would not require a new plant to be built by Futuris.

The seats for all the cars to be sold in Europe would be made in California, he said.

Apart from the clean and silent operation, market analysts believe the increasing popularity of the Model S reflects its recent US crash test results – which as we reported were best possible result in each of the five crash categories – and an expanding network of Tesla’s ‘Supercharger’ recharge stations.

The company has established 23 recharging stations across the US, with nine clustered in California, where Tesla makes about half its sales.

These stations allow drivers to recharge for free. Claimed to be the fastest rechargers in the world, they can give a Tesla S a range of more than 300km with just a 20-minute charge.

In June, Tesla founder Elon Musk outlined a scheme to install a series of battery swap stations.

He demonstrated a battery swap system that can have a Model S recharged and back on the highway in around 90 seconds. It takes twice as long to fill a petrol tank, he said.

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