German car-making giants once thought Tesla was just a weak upstart, but now Elon Musk is challenging them by building gigafactory 4 superfactors in their own backyards. The city of Glenhead is located between two lakes on the edge of a nature reserve south-east of Berlin, where German rangers stand guard to drive away tourists, and a “Lebenssahr” warning sign has been erected.
In the forest of Glenhead, a railroad track runs between pine trees.
The precautions are designed to secure a major project: Tesla is building its latest assembly plant there, Musk’s boldest attack on the German auto industry. Workers have begun using metal detectors to search an area of about 200 football fields for ammunition hidden beneath the surface of small sand.
This is the first phase of preparations for a plant with 500,000 cars a year and 12,000 employees. Once it is confirmed that there are no explosives left over from World War II, harvesters and trucks will pour in to clear thousands of trees from the forest. The work needs to be completed by the end of February to meet Tesla’s rather aggressive schedule. Once completed, the plant will pose a huge challenge to german car makers such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.
The project is a second chance for this quiet little town, where 20 years ago, Glenhead failed to welcome a similar car factory, when BMW chose to settle in Leipzig. When Tesla expressed interest in building its first European plant in Germany, local officials moved quickly to make up for the missed opportunity. They have set aside land for The Tesla plant for industrial use, while providing easy access to highways and rail lines.
“This investment is a unique opportunity,” Glenhead Mayor Arne Christiani said in his office. “
Tesla’s filings show that if it passes the German approval process, its plant will produce batteries, powertrains and vehicles, including the Model Y, Model 3 and any future models. Its factory building will include a stamping workshop, a paint shop and a seating manufacturing workshop, with a total length of 744 meters (2,440 feet). There is space to build four facilities like this.
Challenging the German auto giant
In Germany, established carmakers have long derided Tesla as a weak-money upstart that cannot compete with their rich engineering traditions. In November, Musk shocked the country’s auto industry executives by casually revealing the German plant at an awards ceremony in Berlin. This time Musk went straight into the heart of the global automotive industry and continued to fight for the future of transportation.
Elon Musk is heading to the heart of his most powerful competitors and into the heart of the global automotive industry. Juergen Piper, an analyst at Metzler Bank in Frankfurt, said: “No other foreign carmaker has been able to do this for decades because of germany’s high wage costs, strong unions and high taxes. “
Building a plant in Europe’s largest car market is a major test of Musk’s global ambitions. Demand in the area is flat and buyers are more loyal to local brands. Meanwhile, the German car industry costs 50 per cent more than the US and five times more than in Poland, which is only an hour’s drive from Glenhead.
On the positive side, electric cars require less labour, and Germany has a large pool of automotive experts. The location of the plant also provides the benefit of being close to the country’s leaders.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, under pressure to act slowly over the transformation of electric vehicles, welcomed Mr Musk this time. Peter Altmaier, Germany’s economy minister, has suggested that he will try to ease regulatory hurdles that could hamper the construction of the Tesla plant. Shortly after the project was announced, he said Tesla’s plan was “at stake.”
Musk’s march into Germany was a triumph. A year after the chinese plant broke ground, Tesla has successfully started delivering its Chinese-made Model 3 sedan. Tesla’s share price has doubled in the past three months, driven by optimism.
Meanwhile, German counterparts are struggling with the costly transition from fuel-car to electric vehicles. Daimler, the parent company of Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, announced thousands of job cuts last year, the lowest level in nearly 25 years.
For Glenhead, Tesla’s investment plan turned the town of 8,700 people into a scent overnight. Mr. Christian said local officials receive a variety of development proposals every day, such as building 22-story apartment buildings and American-style shopping malls. She hopes the plant will help the local community gain financial support for the development of public transport, schools and medical facilities.
In the town hall, there are five thick binders for locals to read through the details of Tesla’s project, including 463 trucks a day, a railway feeder for train transportation, and a field fire brigade.
Tesla still has to cross many hurdles. Residents have had the opportunity to raise objections, with some complaining that the company has released little information since the announcement of the plant’ plans. Meanwhile, local water companies have warned that it will not be able to supply water to the site in a timely manner, and have expressed concern that the site is located in an area designed to help protect drinking water supplies.
In addition, the company must take steps to protect wildlife, including scaring off wolves in the area, relocating hibernating bats, and removing lizards and snakes before the building is completed. The U.S. automaker must also replace fallen trees.
The mayor hopes the barriers will be cleared so that the first Tesla cars built in Glenhead could be launched in July 2021.