Tesla grilled on plans to expand Berlin site to Germany's largest car factory

Tesla grilled on plans to expand Berlin site to Germany's largest car factory

Automotive News Europe — 2023-07-18

Automotive Industry

The EV maker hopes to avoid permitting issues similar to those that delayed the opening of the Berlin factory in 2022.

Tesla on Tuesday 18 July sought to assuage local residents concerns over the EV maker's planned expansion of its factory near Berlin that would make the site Germany's biggest car plant.

Tesla currently builds about 5,000 Model Y electric SUVs a week at the plant in Gruenheide. The company aims to double annual capacity to 1 m vehicles a year and add 50 gigawatt hours of battery production capacity, though it has not provided a timeline.

Ramping up output at its first European production hub is crucial to Tesla's goal of overtaking market leader Volkswagen Group, whose largest plant in Wolfsburg has capacity for 800,000 vehicles but last year produced only around 400,000.

While VW Group has the highest EV market share in the region, Tesla is making its mark. The Model Y was the region's best-selling car in the first half, with 125,000 units sold, according to analysts Dataforce.

Tesla on Tuesday 18 July said the planned expansion covers a new 700-by-700-metre production space, around double the size of its current production hall, and could entail increasing its staff to 22,500, from around 10,000 now

Tesla workers answered queries from local people at a question and answer session on Tuesday on issues from water use and biodiversity protection to the environmental impact assessment for the expansion.

The first phase of the plant's construction was delayed due to the high number of objections from local citizens, mostly related to environmental concerns.

Tesla has argued that the plant's impact is relatively low and referred to the benefits of EVs in combating climate change.

The carmaker is due to publish the full application for the expansion on Wednesday 19 July, and citizens have until mid-September to file objections.

The attendees' main concern at Tuesday's event was how the carmaker will manage to expand the plant without using additional water, which Tesla has said it will achieve by recycling the 1.4m cubic metres of water it is licensed to use.

"I keep my animals here for hunting and not even they get enough water. We just don't have enough," Emily, a 23-year-old attendee, told Reuters during the meeting.

Still, others were more optimistic.

"Water isn't a Tesla problem - it's a general problem," said 68-year-old local resident Matthias Handschick. "If the recycling works, that's good - we need these solutions."

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has suggested he may build a second European factory and got the red-carpet treatment during recent visits to Italy and France as leaders from both countries lobbied hard for the investment. In Germany, the company last month cut hundreds of workers, according to the IG Metall labor union.

While Tesla's sales continue to grow, it has been producing more vehicles than it has managed to deliver even after substantial price cuts.

The company is not close to making 1 m cars a year even at its most productive plant in the world, in Shanghai. In March, Tesla said the Gruenheide site produced 5,000 vehicles in one week. If sustained all year long, that would translate to roughly 250,000 vehicles annually.