German automaker Tesla was supposed to be producing brand new vehicles by now at its massive pale grey factory with its own exit on the autobahn, nestled in a pine forest east of Berlin. Instead, it has become a symbol of what happens when Silicon Valley ambition collides with German procedural rules and regulations..
Several months have passed since the start of construction on the $7 billion factory, which will supply the rapidly expanding European market for electric vehicles. According to local officials, the factory is currently six months behind schedule. Furthermore, Tesla may be even further away from producing cars in Germany due to the fact that construction has only recently begun on an adjacent factory that will supply batteries to the company. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Though the construction of Tesla’s first major assembly plant in Europe has received strong support from regional political leaders, the project has been slowed by legal challenges from environmental groups, delays in the approval process by regional and national agencies, and changes in the carmaker’s own plans for the facility. Tesla must also find new homes for the current residents of the site, which include a species of lizard and a type of snake that enjoys eating the lizard.
Tesla’s inability to meet its planned launch date could prove costly. It buys time for competing automakers such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Renault to try to establish their own expanding lineups of electric vehicles in order to compete with Tesla.
In Europe, Tesla’s Model 3 electric vehicle, which the company imports from either China or the United States, is the most popular electric vehicle on the market. Nevertheless, according to Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst based in Berlin who tracks electric vehicle sales in Europe, Volkswagen’s electric models, such as the ID.3 hatchback and ID.4 sport utility vehicle, which were introduced during the past year, have outsold Tesla in terms of combined sales.
Mr. Schmidt stated that the European market is “completely hot” at the present time. “It is undeniably a missed opportunity for Tesla, as well as an opportunity gained for European automobile manufacturers.”
The history of American automobile manufacturers who have crossed the Atlantic and established a profitable presence in Europe is brief. Because of the difficulties foreign automakers have had dealing with troublesome labour unions and interpreting the preferences of local car buyers, Europe has become a money pit for foreign automakers.
After decades of losses, General Motors sold its European Opel and Vauxhall operations to the company now known as Stellantis in 2017. Ford of Europe has struggled to stem a decline in market share, which was as low as 4 percent in May in the European Union, according to the company. Even Toyota, which has a 6 percent share of the European market, has struggled to match the level of popularity enjoyed by the company in Asia and the United States.
Among the reasons Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, appears to have chosen Germany for the company’s third major assembly plant, which will be able to produce an estimated 500,000 vehicles per year, is that he wanted to tap into the engineering and manufacturing expertise that has allowed Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW to dominate the global market for luxury passenger cars. Tesla’s third major assembly plant will be able to produce an estimated 500,000 vehicles per year. When the girder structure of the factory was finished last year and an event was held to celebrate the completion of the structure, he dressed in a black vest, white shirt, and wide-brimmed hat, which is traditional German journeyman builder garb.
The attire concealed a more fundamental clash of cultures occurring at the workplace.
According to Rolf Lindemann, county commissioner of Oder-Spree, where the factory is located, “On one hand, you have the American enthusiasm for new ideas and the desire to put them into practise as quickly and efficiently.” “On the other hand, you have the German approach, which is to think things through to their conclusion, to consider the consequences, and to try to minimise risks — to thoroughly examine the whole situation.”
For Tesla, this is nothing new; the company has a long track record of overly optimistic timelines for projects such as autonomous driving, electric long-haul trucks, and rocket launches.
Mr. Musk, on the other hand, may have received more German culture than he bargained for. There are few people who believe that the factory can be stopped before it produces its first car in Germany, but Manuela Hoyer, a 61-year-old former union organiser who lives about six miles from the factory and is one of the few who believe that it can be stopped before it produces its first car, believes otherwise. Considering that the factory appears to be nearly finished, with workers putting the finishing touches on the exterior and installing machinery inside, this may be a bit optimistic.
According to Ms. Hoyer, who has been charged with trespassing on the property, “when the second-richest man in the world shows up they roll out the red carpet and give him everything he asks for.” Mr. Gates is the world’s second-richest man. It was decided to drop the charges.) “That is truly a crime, not only against the environment and the people here, but also against themselves.”
Ms. Hoyer, who is a member of a small citizens’ group that monitors the Tesla project, speaks out at public hearings on the project and is an outspoken letter writer who sends missives to local officials or calls the police whenever she notices something at the site that she believes is in violation of local clean water laws or other ordinances. Ms. Hoyer is a fierce letter writer who sends missives to local officials or calls the police whenever she sees something at the site that she believes is
In addition to the NABU, the Green League has filed a lawsuit against Tesla to compel the company to relocate a population of sand lizards, which are approximately 10 inches in length and bright green and grey in colour and thrive in the site’s sandy soil, as well as several 30-inch-long smooth adders that live on the property. In accordance with German and European law, both species are considered threatened.
The fact that the snakes prey on the lizards adds to the difficulty of the operation, which is expected to be completed by the end of the summer. Environmentalists argue that the lizards must be relocated first so that they can become acclimated to their new environment and have a fighting chance of surviving once their predators arrive.
The environmental groups attempting to sue Tesla have stated that they do not expect to be able to prevent the project from moving forward. However, they want to prevent Tesla from cutting corners, and they have so far been successful in reducing the number of trees that the company has been permitted to cut down in order to accomplish this.
According to Christiane Schröder, the regional head of NABU, “not everything can be done at Tesla speed.”
Tesla has not yet had to deal with Germany’s tough labour unions or the laws that favour them on a regular basis, but it will. It is up to the employees, according to Birgit Dietze, leader of the regional unit of the IG Metall labour union, which represents German autoworkers, who stated via email that the amount of organising they ultimately wanted to do “depends on them.” If they wish to organise for better working conditions and demand a wage contract, we will assist them.
Political leaders in the region are unwavering in their support for Tesla. There are thousands of additional jobs at suppliers, nearby retailers, and other local businesses that are expected to be created as a result of the more than 10,000 jobs that Tesla is expected to create.
Jörg Steinbach, the state minister in charge of economic affairs for the German state of Brandenburg, was instrumental in convincing Tesla to build the factory in Grünheide, and he has staked his political future on the project’s completion. “The amount of noise they make is out of proportion to the number of people who oppose the project,” he said of the project’s opponents.
Mr. Steinbach, on the other hand, expressed some dissatisfaction with Tesla’s apparent indifference to local public opinion, complaining that he is frequently forced to act as the company’s spokesperson because the company makes little effort to communicate with the surrounding community.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not the Tesla press spokesperson,” Mr. Steinbach stated.
The company Tesla has been cited as a cause of some of the delays, as the company has revised its building permit application at least 15 times, necessitating the need for new temporary approvals, according to officials.
The assembly plant will already be a massive structure when it first opens its doors. Aerial photography taken by local drone operators shows a completed roof with rows of skylights and ventilation pipes in the shape of mushrooms. Unloading bays are available on the ground floor for the receipt of components and raw materials.
Arne Christiani, the mayor of Grünheide, sees the factory as an opportunity to revitalise an area that was once a part of East Germany and has suffered since Germany’s reunification in 1990, when young people fled to the west in search of greater excitement and opportunity. “The factory is a chance to revitalise an area that was once a part of East Germany and has suffered since the reunification in 1990,” Christiani says.
A facility where the Stasi secret police opened and read mail that East Germans received from friends and family in the West was one of the area’s largest employers prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it remains one of the area’s largest employers today. The site where the Tesla factory will be built was previously used by East German soldiers training to fight NATO; in fact, the land was cleared of unexploded munitions before construction could begin on the facility.
The site’s opponents, according to Mr. Christiani, are an affluent newcomer minority who are a small but vocal minority — an accusation that Ms. Hoyer rejects outright. He expresses optimism that the factory will continue to grow and attract additional businesses to the area.