Tesla opened the doors to its European gigafactory for the first time this month, but local people are still unimpressed, said Wired UK.
Inside, Tesla was addressing members of the local community with tours of its Giga presses, test drives of its Model Y, and an on-stage appearance by Musk himself. Ever since Musk announced his intention to pick Berlin as the place to open its first European gigafactory in November 2019, construction has been plagued by environmental concerns and local opposition. The original plan to open the factory in the summer of 2021 was quietly scrapped after the car company’s timeline was crashed.
Following this, Tesla had a plan to turn the course: Musk flew in to host Gigafest as a last-ditch attempt to get them on board and drum up hype for his first factory on European soil.
Situated in Grüenheide, Tesla has promised the factory will create up to 12,000 local jobs and produce up to 500,000 Model Ys and 50GWh of battery production each year. Katja Diehl, a German car industry expert, commented:
“I think it’s fun for him [Musk] to have a nest in this really well-known car-building country. He’s pushing the fact that [the industry] still isn’t able to do what he is doing.”
Traditional German carmakers currently produce less eclectic vehicles a year combined than will be made at the factory. Some observers took Musk’s plans as a threat to their existence, whereas others applauded him for pushing the industry in a sustainable direction. The state government set up a committee to get the factory running as soon as possible, and the company received €1 billion in state aid. Tesla made the risky decision to begin building before receiving a license, which is legal under German law.
Musk has expressed his frustration with initially declaring “Berlin rocks!” and tweeting about hosting rave parties at the factory. And even though some members of the community are excited about what the factory will bring, others are determined to never let it open.
Across the road from the factory entrance, a group of activists from local campaign group Citizens’ Initiative Grünheide have parked a caravan, tied a huge “Stop Tesla” sign to a fence and are handing out pamphlets. So far, they have caused several hold-ups over concerns about water usage and pollution. Large parts of the factory are in a water protection zone, and the area is one of the driest in Germany. It has experienced severe droughts in the past few years, which are likely to get worse in future due to climate change. Furthermore, Tesla has modified the factory plans so that it will use less water but is yet to change to a closed water system that would prevent contamination.
Others who live near the site are more optimistic. Albrecht Köhler, a nurse from the nearest town of Erkner, has been documenting the gigafactory’s construction. The district is very green and peaceful, and he was worried about what detrimental effect the influx of workers and industry could have.
But Grünheide is in former East Germany, the poorest part of the country, and has a high level of ‘brain drain’. Köhler says many of his friends have left the area in search of work, so decided the gigafactory could help revive the community, creating tech jobs and attracting more young people.
Köhler isn’t a fan of Musk, but he admires the entrepreneur and says he is intrigued by the devotion he inspires in some people. But Köhler has been disappointed with the lack of communication from Tesla with the local community. The fact that the company’s only spokesperson is Musk has meant questions and concerns have gone answered, he argues:
“It would be better if there was a speaker for Tesla who could give us information. They could have said a bit earlier than they would do this.”
Tesla announced that the event would happen in August, but told people they need tickets two days before the event was due to start. Tesla declined to comment for this piece.
Occasionally there are confrontations between the people arguing passionately for and against the factory. But despite electric cars being essential to a low-emission future – according to the Paris Agreement, combustion engines should be phased out by 2030.
Tesla is currently advertising hundreds of job openings at the factory and is promising to provide more training opportunities than any company in the state. But most of these roles will likely be filled by people elsewhere as local people don’t have the right skills. This will create an influx to a quiet rural area, potentially pushing up property prices and putting a strain on infrastructure, despite the state government promising it will try to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Ralf Schmilewski, a member of the local Green Party, believes some of the objections to the Gigafactory have arisen from cultural clashes over the “American” way of doing things. “They started building before they had a complete and precise plan,” he says of Tesla. This led to another major delay – when the company decided to also produce batteries at the factory, they had to resubmit their permit application to comply with German rules.
Further down the list, it’s unclear whether Tesla will be able to deliver all its promises to the people of Grünheide. One analyst recently declared the company’s stock to be 70% overvalued, due to its comparative slowness in autonomous driving. The current microchip deficit is also causing delays in electric car production around the world.