FRANKFURT: Elon Musk picked a glitzy event in Germany, a few hours’ drive from the birthplace of the internal combustion engine, to drop the news before some of the world’s biggest car bosses: Tesla Inc plans to set up shop in their backyard.
The billionaire chief executive officer announced that Tesla would round out its global manufacturing network with a factory near Berlin. At a red-carpet awards ceremony attended by the heads of BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and Audi AG, he said the company would also establish an engineering-and-design centre near the city’s new airport.
“Some of the best cars in the world are obviously made in Germany, ” Musk said while accepting a trophy for the Model 3, which beat out BMW and Audi sedans for midsize car of the year. He said the country is “not that far behind” in electric cars, while also acknowledging that the market for them is “unproven.”
The news wasn’t completely out of left field – Musk has said before that Tesla would announce the location for a factory in Europe before the end of this year, and that Germany was a frontrunner.
But it nonetheless bolstered the CEO’s flair-for-the-dramatic reputation. Fresh off a surprise profit report that sent Tesla shares surging, he threw down the gauntlet in front of rival executives that no longer dismiss his company as a niche automaker.
“Elon Musk has an ability to make a splash, ” said John Boyd, principal of an eponymous manufacturing site-selection firm based in Princeton, New Jersey. “Not only does Germany bring top-level manufacturing skill sets and positive supply chain dynamics to the table, but there is a cachet value to Tesla establishing a brick-and-mortar presence in Germany – a nation synonymous with precision car manufacturing.”
Musk has until now relied on a single auto assembly plant in Fremont, California, to build a US$63bil company. That facility is supported by the first of the company’s so-called gigafactories near Reno, Nevada, that makes batteries. Tesla is on the verge of starting sales of Model 3s produced at its latest production facility, near Shanghai.
While adding a European factory raises the stakes for established automakers already facing a serious threat from the electric upstart, it’s likely going to take time for the plant to get up and running. Musk estimated earlier this year that Tesla’s European gigafactory probably won’t be operational until 2021.
“The Berlin location serves two unique goals, ” said Gene Munster, a managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures. “It’s strategic to lure German automotive talent to Tesla, and it’s a statement that Elon wants to one-up auto companies from that region.”
The plant will be in Gruenheide, just over an hour’s drive from Berlin in eastern Germany, according to Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper. Around 10,000 jobs would be created, Bild reported.
Tesla’s modest presence in Berlin now includes a store and service centre near the Schoenefeld airport, and showrooms near Potsdamer Platz and on the West Berlin shopping boulevard Kurfuerstendamm.
While the future of Germany’s electric-car market looks crowded, the politics of shifting away from the internal combustion engine also are going to be messy. Daimler AG, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, is running into labour-union resistance over where future electric cars will be produced ahead of a critical meeting with investors today in London. Audi, the biggest profit contributor to Volkswagen AG, faces similar fights over safeguarding employment at its main German factories that specialise in sedans and station wagons. — Bloomberg