FREMONT, Calif.—Tesla Motors builds one of the world's safest cars out of cheap, lightweight metal in a factory it practically stole from General Motors and Toyota. That's one of the most important ways the electric car company reduced the price of an electric vehicle (EV) from a carbon-fiber Roadster above $100,000 to a mostly aluminum Model S at around $70,000. (Those prices exclude any rebates or tax incentives.) Yet, at the same time, the Model S achieved the highest crash safety rating ever from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). So how has the electric automaker reduced costs and improved safety? The Model S has become "the Palo Alto Camry," in the words of Tesla marketing manager and longtime auto enthusiast Ted Merendino—and any driver in California’s Bay Area would be forced to agree. Menlo Park–native Merendino, who has an outsized passion for cars, owns a Roadster not because he works at Tesla, he says, but because it's an amazing street-legal race car for someone who has "always loved cars." And, he adds as joke: "I make poor financial decisions." Unlike Palo Alto, however, only a handful of Teslas dot the fleet of worker vehicles parked outside the Fremont factory on a bright, hot summer day. A peek under the hood reveals nothing about a Model S because it only reveals a "frunk," (more on that later), so understanding how Tesla constructed such a safe automobile requires a visit to the place where it is made. That's something Tesla customers can do as well—step two in their evangelization after that initial trip to the showroom—to pick up their new custom-built cars and tour the 510,000-square-meter facility. Merendino took me around the sprawling factory, more than half of which is unlit and largely used as a repository for materials or left empty. But the rest of the space's white lacquered floors resound with activity, whether large, single-armed robots welding cars together in a precise ballet or the clatter of keyboards in the open employee bull pen, where CEO Elon Musk holds court at a simple desk across from the production line every Tuesday and Wednesday. A mountain bike leans against his workstation to allow the EV entrepreneur to quickly access any part of the sprawling factory. Scooters are a common sight at the plant as well, their drivers taking pains to steer clear of the minibuses carrying customers on tours. As Merendino explains, construction of the safest car in North America starts with metal, in the case of the Model S largely aluminum from Alcoa for the chassis and body panels. The lightweight metal requires precise stamping, which means the Tesla factory boasts the largest hydraulic press in North America—some seven stories tall, with three of those stories extending underground. In fact, a total of five hydraulic presses in a row mold complex shapes such as the hoods or sides of the cars. It's a slow press, so as to keep heat and warping to a minimum. A laser cutter is used for more precise work. The finished shapes head out to the factory floor where car bodies on "smart carts" are guided along magnetic strips. During the two daily shifts, 36 robots made by bot manufacturer KUKA—capable of swapping tools on their extremities—spin in place while delicately positioning parts, such as a roof, with precision—almost as if the machine had fingers rather than giant clamps. "They need to be retrained once in awhile," Merendino says, noting that the factory also has some 3,000 human employees. The company currently makes most of its own components, due to a lack of qualified suppliers. "We actually build the Model S from scratch," Musk explained at an event to launch the car in New York City in November 2012.