Tesla pulled out all the stops on Saturday to win over opposition of the electric carmaker’s controversial new ‘gigafactory’ near Berlin, with a Ferris wheel, music and an appearance from CEO Elon Musk.
Fans cheered and laughed when the South African took the stage in Gruenheide at sunset – dressed in all black and a leather jacket – welcoming him like a popstar.
The billionaire said at the event that the first cars cars to emerge from Tesla’s new Berlin factory should roll off the production line as early as next month, but added that volume production would take much longer to achieve.
However, there is still a chance that the factory – already built – may not get approval, with a demonstration against the facility taking place at the same time as the event.
Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, arrives on stage at the Tesla Gigafactory in Gruenheide, near Berlin, Saturday, as the first vehicles are set to roll out from the factory by the end of the year
The company offered 9,000 tickets to the festival, with residents of Brandenburg state given priority. Thousands of people were brought in by special shuttle buses, with long queues forming at the Gruenheide site.
‘I wanted to take a look. Tesla’s a great, very innovative car manufacturer,’ said 25-year-old local resident Dominic, an engineer.
‘Look, Mummy! A Tesla,’ shouted an excited 9-year old called Emil, one of many children lined up with parents waiting for a 90-minute site tour.
‘This day is unique,’ said Tesla fan Fred Schroeder. ‘The Tesla factory in Germany will be opened to the public for the first time. That is a very special day.’
Musk hopes to get the green light in coming weeks to start production at the site.
The latest consultation on public concerns towards the site closes on October 14, after which the Environment Ministry will make a decision.
‘Starting production is nice, but volume production is the hard part,’ Musk told a cheering audience at a festival at the plant site.
Many attendees livestreamed the speech on social media. ‘It will take longer to reach volume production than it took to build the factory,’ he said.
Fans cheered and laughed when Musk took the stage in Gruenheide at sunset (pictured), welcoming him like a popstar
Musk hopes to get the green light in coming weeks to start production at the site (pictured, file photo). The latest consultation on public concerns towards the site closes on October 14, after which the Environment Ministry will make a decision
Tesla pulled out all the stops on Saturday to win over opposition of the electric carmaker’s controversial new ‘gigafactory’ near Berlin, including a Ferris wheel
He said volume production would amount to 5,000 or ‘hopefully 10,000’ vehicles per day, and battery cells would be made there in volume by the end of next year.
He also defended the factory against critics of its environmental impact, saying that it used ‘relatively little’ water and that battery cell production was ‘sustainable’.
Some local residents and environmental groups are unhappy with Musk’s approach, which they say flies in the face of German business culture.
‘I would tell him to stop building electrocars but rather fly to Mars,’ said Manu Hoyer, who led a small protest of locals who oppose the project on environmental grounds, saying it will pollute drinking water.
‘It’s unbelievable that you can build a factory like this without permission,’ said 69-year-old local activist Gurdrun Luebeck.
Brandenburg’s economy minister has put the chances of the factory gaining approval to operate at 95 percent.
Some local residents and environmental groups are unhappy with Musk’s approach, which they say flies in the face of German business culture. Pictured: Signs protesting Tesla’s new car factory are seen during the ‘Gigafest’ open house county fair-style event
Tesla has submitted plans to invest 5 billion euros in a battery plant with 50 GWh capacity next to the site, outstripping Volkswagen’s planned 40GWh capacity site in Salzgitter.
Musk said Tesla was worried that recruiting sufficient staff would be an issue, calling for people to apply from ‘all over Europe’. He said he hoped the battery plant would reach volume production by the end of next year.
Construction at the plant had begun under an exceptional procedure granted by authorities two years ago, but opposition from locals over environmental concerns has held up final approval.
But despite the local resistance, construction has been completed in double-quick time, replacing a swathe of pine forest with an enormous concrete-paved expanse accessed via ‘Tesla Road’.
Such a turn of events is, however, ‘unlikely’, said Dudenhoeffer, since the project has considerable ‘political support’.
Visitors look at Tesla cars during the ‘Gigafest’ open house county fair-style event, in which local residents were invited to visit the Tesla automobile company’s Gigabit factory construction site in Gruenheide, near Berlin on October 9, 2021
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party leader Armin Laschet visit the construction site of Tesla’s Gigafactory in Gruenheide near Berlin, August 13, 2021
‘Every political party is in favour,’ the car expert explained, while noting that changes to the factory facade could be requested by authorities, delaying the beginning of production further.
First planned for July 2021, the start has already been pushed back to the end of this year as a result of the company’s administrative troubles.
Tesla was ‘irritated’ by these setbacks, as it wrote in an open letter in March, in which the company called for a ‘reform’ of Germany’s planning procedures.
Despite the country’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often slowed down by excess bureaucracy.
Berlin’s new international airport opened in October 2020, eight years later than first planned, while the construction of a new train station in Stuttgart is not yet finished, having begun in 2010.