Tesla is going BIG. Elon Musk announced a large electric car plant in Germany, the hub of European auto manufacturing, in November 2019. His Silicon Valley firm was riding a skyrocketing share price fueled by the start of a streak of quarterly profits. And, more crucially, its Shanghai Gigafactory was coming built at an astounding pace. It was ready to begin producing Model 3s just 11 months after the groundbreaking.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the plant and its Berlin location in November 2019 at the Das Goldene Lenkrad award presentation. The plant will manufacture batteries, battery packs, and powertrains for Tesla vehicles, as well as assemble the Tesla Model Y, with production set to begin in late 2021. By early 2020, construction work had commenced, with site preparation and foundation work already underway. The Gigafactory is scheduled to open in July 2021, as per a January 2020 report by the local environmental office.
Tesla’s Gigafactory will, by definition, be massive, but the site near Berlin will be far larger than anticipated. Tesla’s revised building application now involves the installation of the world’s largest battery cell production plant, in addition to the electric-car facility. According to Tesla, when fully operational, the Gigafactory will employ approximately 12,000 workers. Production was supposed to begin in July of this year. However, a delay of several months is inevitable because the updated building plan application must be reviewed by regional authorities as well as the public.
The Gigafactory’s product innovations and manufacturing methods will be cutting-edge, including the most powerful Battery Systems, high-performance Drive Units, and Power Electronics. A new dimension in casting systems and a highly efficient body shop, resulting in a high level of vehicle safety. World-class vehicles will be supplied to their customers’ thanks to a next-generation Paint Shop that enables color tone depth and complexity never seen before in volume production cars, as well as a high-quality Final Assembly. The Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg will be a great place to work, with innovative and environmentally friendly features. Situated in the municipality of Grünheide and its natural surroundings, an extensive infrastructure of bicycle paths, roads, and highways, direct train connections. And proximity to the new international airport BER will ensure convenient access, both to the nearby vibrant city of Berlin and to the broader region of Germany and Europe.
The Berlin plant will be Tesla’s first major manufacturing facility in Europe, as well as its fourth so-called Gigafactory, others are already in operation in Nevada, New York, and Shanghai. Musk coined the term “Gigafactory” to describe his company’s plans for the massive battery factory in Nevada. It’s essentially a marketing term that has taken on a life of its own. Official Tesla communication on the project is limited, but it states that “Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg will be the world’s most advanced high-volume electric vehicle production plant.”
The first cars are likely to roll off the assembly line in early 2022, after Tesla had to postpone the plant’s launch, which was initially scheduled for July 2021. Musk extended the German team’s contract by six months, according to a report in the German weekly Automobilwoche in early May. The Model Y, an electric mid-size SUV, will be the first vehicle produced by the California-based startup. According to Tesla’s plans, once the initial expansion phase is completed, the facility will employ up to 12,000 people and produce 500,000 cars per year for the European market. According to media estimates, the business intends to invest up to 4 billion euros in the project.
The press shop, foundry, body shop, paint shop, powertrain manufacture, seat manufacture, and final assembly are the key manufacturing facilities at the Tesla Berlin vehicle plant. Tesla also intends to develop the property into the world’s largest battery cell manufacturing facility. Musk stated that an annual output capacity of up to 100-gigawatt hours (GWh) was achievable, “and then perhaps” increased to 200 or 250 GWh. A single factory with an annual capacity of 100 GWh could generate enough batteries for 1.3 million Model Y automobiles with 75 KWh batteries. At the Berlin plant, Tesla intends to produce new “4680 cells” measuring 80 by 46 mm with a higher energy density. The EU approved state financing for the battery project in January. According to Brandenburg economics minister Jörg Steinbach, who was important in attracting Tesla to the region, battery production might begin in around two years.
The site is in the sparsely populated and heavily forested municipality of Grünheide, around 35 kilometers southeast of Berlin, where Tesla purchased a 3 km2 block of land that had been designated for an industry project for roughly 20 years. BMW considered developing a car plant on the same site two decades ago but ultimately chose Leipzig. Tesla emphasizes its “natural surroundings” close to the “vibrant city of Berlin” to entice staff to the site. Tesla claims that a comprehensive infrastructure of bike paths, roads, and highways, as well as direct railway links, will assure convenient accessibility. The land is relatively close to an autobahn and will have its exit. According to the Brandenburg state administration, the development of a plant railway station for freight logistics is also planned to achieve the largest feasible participation of rail in freight traffic. Tesla is also thinking about employing extra space in a nearby logistics center. The company intends to open an engineering and design center in Berlin. The new airport in Berlin is about 35 kilometers away.
Even though the factory’s construction is well underway, authorities have yet to grant Tesla a final permit. Despite outstanding questions about the factory’s environmental impact, German law allows the company to proceed with construction based on provisional licenses, with the caveat that the US carmaker would have to dismantle its construction and reforest the area if the licenses were ultimately denied. The licensing procedure is heavily influenced by Germany’s Federal Emission Control Act, which seeks to limit environmental damage.
The law allows construction to begin before final approval if:
- A positive decision is expected;
- There is a public interest in the early start; and
- The applicant “undertakes to compensate for all damage caused by the construction of the facility up to the time of the decision and, if the project is not approved, to restore it to its previous condition.
Tesla made a 100-million-euro deposit in January, as required by law, to ensure that the site can be restored to its former condition before construction began.
As the company waited for final certification in June 2021, Tesla criticized lengthy approval processes for German industry and infrastructure projects as impeding critical climate change measures. “Tesla Brandenburg has seen firsthand how impediments in German approval law stymie the required industrial change, and hence the transport and energy transition,” stated the Tesla subsidiary in a statement filed as part of a legal dispute before the regional higher administrative court. The approval process of the authorities may appear to be slow, yet it is extremely swift by German standards. Obtaining the necessary licenses to construct a single wind turbine in the country can take several years. The Tesla factory’s quick pace also compares significantly with Berlin’s new airport, which opened in late 2020 after a nearly decade delay.