With a big wheel, music and the presence of CEO Elon Musk, Tesla is pulling out all the stops to win over opponents of the electric carmaker’s controversial new “Gigafactory” near Berlin on Saturday.
Long queues of people brought in by special shuttle buses were already forming at the Grünheide site of Tesla’s first European factory at around 10 a.m.
“I wanted to take a look. Tesla is a great, very innovative car maker,” said 25-year-old local resident Dominic, an engineer.
Construction at the plant had begun two years ago as part of an extraordinary process given by the authorities, but local protests over environmental concerns have stalled final approval.
Protesters were already at the scene on Saturday morning, with some people gathering signs such as “Stop Tesla” and “Water and forests are not for private profit” about 100 meters from the site.
“It’s unbelievable that you can build a factory like this without permission,” said Gurdrun Lübeck, a 69-year-old local worker.
After Mr Musk was expected to attend the “giga-fest”, he tweeted “Giga Berlin-Brandenburg Fun Party Today” in German on Saturday morning.
The company envisions a phenomenon in the image of Berlin, the party capital of Europe – a big wheel, electronic music and vegetarian food truck.
Thousands are expected to attend, with locals being given priority for the guest list announced by Tesla earlier this week.
Tesla began construction at the site in Grünheide in 2019 after receiving initial approval under a special process.
But local officials are still in the process of evaluating the factory’s environmental impact while construction has been completed.
The special treatment given to the company has angered some residents, who are concerned about the impact the plant might have on water supplies and biodiversity.
Supported by NGOs, opponents have sent letters, held protests and went to court to try and stop the project.
“Tesla will have to follow the same procedures as other companies,” the Green League campaign group said recently.
Last year, work at the Tesla site was temporarily halted after NGOs requested an injunction to protect the nearby natural habitat of endangered species of lizards and snakes while they were in their winter sleep. .
A residents’ consultation, part of the approval process, is scheduled to close on October 14.
Until the survey is completed, final approval cannot be given and production will not be allowed to start at the factory.
Nevertheless, the state environment ministry in Brandenburg, where the plant is located, told AFP that “no date has been set” for this authorisation.
Despite local resistance, construction was completed in double-quick time, replacing an area of pine forest with a vast concrete-paved expanse accessible via “Tesla Road”.
economies of scale
Tesla’s first production location in Europe, the factory just outside Berlin, should take about 500,000 cars off the line a year.
Not all attendees at Saturday’s party were convinced that the area could take it.
Marlene Winkler, 35, said, “I am critical. There are not enough roads, nor enough space for a factory like this.”
On the same 300-hectare plot, Mr. Musk also plans to build “the world’s largest battery factory”.
And the site will equally boast “the world’s largest die-casting machine,” said Ferdinand Dudenhofer, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Germany.
The custom-built equipment should allow Tesla to “significantly reduce production costs”, Dudenhofer said.
In the event that the factory clearance is not given, the carmaker will be forced to dismantle the entire work at its own expense.
However, such incidents are “unlikely”, Mr Dudenhofer said, as the project has considerable “political backing”.
“Every political party is in favor of it,” explained the car expert, noting that changes to factory masks could be requested by the authorities, further delaying the start of production.
First planned for July 2021, the launch has already been pushed back to the end of this year as a result of the company’s administrative troubles.
Tesla was “irritated” by these failures, as it wrote in an open letter in March, in which the company called for a “reform” of Germany’s planning processes.
Despite the country’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often slowed down by additional bureaucracy.
Berlin’s new international airport opened in October 2020, eight years after the first plan, while construction of a new train station in Stuttgart is yet to be completed, which began in 2010.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NB staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)