Just two years and four months after Tesla made its announcement, Germany’s second largest car factory has opened.
Musk personally attended the opening of Tesla’s Grünheide factory
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk handed over the first vehicle from the Grünheide factory in Brandenburg to a customer at 1:42 p.m. Tuesday. At the end of the production line, the “Model Y” drove through a typical Tesla light shaft. The song “I’m in love with my car” by the British rock band Queen sounded from the speakers, and several hundred fans and employees of the American electric carmaker cheered in the hall. Musk, dressed unusually formally in a suit and tie, strolled around the car. Two years and four months after the decision to locate the plant in Grünheide was announced, the factory officially opened.
“A jewel for the region”
The eccentric head of the company, who had arrived from America the day before, spoke of a “jewel” for the region. He phrased his opening words in German: “Thank you for everything, Brandenburg, Grünheide, Germany.” In addition to Tesla supporters, numerous politicians were present at the opening. Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens), Brandenburg Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke (SPD) and his Minister of Economy and Environment were present. The Tesla factory is “a sign of many things that are developing in Germany,” Scholz said, adding: “East Germany is leading the way in terms of industry.”
Woidke pointed to the fast approval process, by German standards: “Tesla has set us many difficult tasks.” But now the factory is “ramping up.” Less enthusiastic were the climate activists who stuck themselves with glue on the access road during the opening ceremony and triggered a police action. In their view, replacing internal combustion engines with electric cars will not help the climate crisis.
The construction of the factory has been controversial from the start. The site had been designated as an industrial area for more than two decades. However, it is located in a water conservation area. In February 2020, conservation groups tried in court to stop the clearing of pine trees for the first phase of construction, but to no avail. Once the last bat was relocated, construction work could begin.
The dispute then shifted to the issue of water demand. Opponents of the Tesla plant fear water shortages in the region due to higher extraction rates allowed by the state’s environmental agency, also with the car factory in mind. The local water board is also among the critics. The state government considers these concerns unfounded. Tesla itself insists that it needs far less water to make electric cars than other internal combustion engine car makers.
All in one piece
At the heart of the car factory are four “gigapresses,” each the size of a single-family home. These enable large body parts to be produced from a single casting. This is done by melting aluminum at 700 degrees. The ingots are lined up in a long row in the eastern part of the factory. Nearby, under plastic tarps, dozens of red Kuka robots wait their turn. While production is already underway in one part of the factory, construction continues elsewhere. The workers standing by the assembly lines are mostly younger. In the area where workers are slowly assembling the body and support structure to the battery pack and electric motor, hip-hop music is playing that day.
Tesla built the factory at its own financial risk while the approval process was still underway. The planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Brunsbüttel and Wilhelmshaven are also to be built at this “Tesla pace,” according to the federal economy minister. BDI CEO Siegfried Russwurm also praised the rapid completion of the investments: “Tesla’s speed must serve as a model for investment projects in Germany,” – he said.
Up to 500,000 electric cars per year
About 3,500 employees currently work for Tesla in Grünheide. In the medium term, 12,000 employees are expected to produce half a million electric cars per year. This would make the Grünheide plant the second largest car factory in Germany, after VW’s Wolfsburg plant. According to estimates, the company has invested nearly 6 billion euros in the car factory alone. Tesla does not comment on these figures. A battery cell factory is currently under construction in the immediate vicinity at a similarly high cost. The company’s strategy is to produce as many products as possible in-house and to become independent of suppliers, as is the case with other manufacturers. At the factory, this is also reflected in the many large shelves and racks where pressed parts await processing.
Tesla is expected to receive about 300 million from regional economic development programs to build the factory. Tesla, on the other hand, withdrew its application for grants from the EU’s battery factory program, although it could have hoped for more than 1 billion euros from the program. Tesla does not comment on the reasons. Following the opening of the Grünheide factory, attention will now increasingly turn towards Intel’s planned chip factory in Magdeburg. However, construction is expected to take four to five years.