Tesla officially began making cars in Europe on Tuesday, opening an assembly plant in a critical market where Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, plans to build 500,000 electric vehicles a year.
Mr. Musk escorted Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and other officials on a tour of the huge, low-slung $7 billion plant just outside of Berlin. It was constructed in little more than two years, a speed that amazed German officials and commentators.
“Electromobility will shape the mobility of the future,” Mr. Scholz said after the walk through the plant.
Robert Habeck, a German vice-chancellor and the country’s economy minister, said it was “a special day also for Germany and a special day for the mobility transformation in Germany.”
Mr. Musk, for his part, wrote on Twitter: “Danke Deutschland!!”
Mr. Musk celebrated the day by handing over the first 30 European-built Teslas to customers who had ordered them and been invited to the event. Tesla will build its Model Y S.U.V.s at the plant.
The factory, called Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg, was first revealed in a surprise announcement by Mr. Musk a little over two years ago, and it overcame a number of legal and political challenges to attain its production certification.
Tesla raced to build the factory, and was allowed to proceed after securing only preliminary approvals from government authorities — on the condition that Mr. Musk agreed to tear down the plant and leave the site as he found it if state boards ultimately refused the project. It was a gamble that the carmaker won earlier this month when authorities approved the production site.
A battery production plant on the property still requires state approval before going live.
The 2.4 million-square-foot plant places Tesla in one of the most important electric car markets in the world. European countries have passed laws to eventually phase out internal combustion engines.
And electric cars are increasingly joining the mainstream. More than 20 percent of new cars sold in Europe and Britain in December were powered solely by electricity, data from government agencies showed. Europeans also bought more electric cars than diesels in December; diesels were once the most popular engine option in Europe.
The German site is Tesla’s third major plant, after plants in Fremont, Calif., and Shanghai. Another plant, outside Austin, Texas, is expected to open soon. The new plants are expected to double the company’s production capacity to about 2 million vehicles a year, according to analysts at Wedbush Securities.
Once it is fully operational, the German plant will employ 12,000 employees. Some 3,000 employees already work there, according to Tesla.
Built just 130 miles east of Volkswagen’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, on an old East German army training site, the plant was also a direct challenge to German carmakers who had been trying to make inroads in the electric car sector.
While state and federal governments have supported the construction, a number of environmental and civic groups have criticized the factory, especially for its projected water use. Protesters on Tuesday walked around the Tesla site with handwritten signs directing criticism at Mr. Musk and Tesla.
Source: NY Times