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Heres why Tesla’s Gigafactory is critical to the future of the company - and the world
Posted on December 10, 2018 by Charles Morris
As a recent spate of articles and videos has highlighted, Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory is one of the company’s most impressive assets. All who visit are amazed by the amount of activity going on there - and what’s happening today is just the beginning.
Above: A Tesla Model X looks down upon Tesla's Gigafactory early in the construction of the building (Image: Tesla)
Sean O’Kane, writing in The Verge, was struck by the work-in-progress nature of everything at the vast facility. In the parking lot, a rank of charging stations was recently installed for employee use - but they’re only temporary. Before long, the chargers will be removed, and what’s now a parking lot will be part of the ever-growing factory floor.
Today, Gigafactory 1 has a footprint of 1.9 million square feet, and its three floors include 4.9 million square feet of manufacturing and office space. However, according to Tesla, it’s only about 30 percent complete. The finished facility will be the largest building in the world by footprint and the second largest by volume.
When Tesla opened Gigafactory 1 in 2016, it promised the state of Nevada that the facility would provide 6,500 permanent jobs, and would contribute $100 billion to the state’s economy over the next 20 years. Today, there are some 7,000 Tesla employees working at the site, while partner Panasonic employs an additional 3,000 people. In 2016, Tesla announced a goal of manufacturing 35 GWh worth of batteries by 2020. The company has produced over 20 GWh worth this year, and is on track to reach the 35 GWh goal two years ahead of schedule.
Tesla has plans to build vehicles and a range of other products at the Gigafactory, but at the moment, it makes only the battery cells, battery pack and drivetrain for Model 3, as well as the Powerwall and Powerpack battery storage products (Tesla imports battery cells for Models S and X from Japan, and assembles all its vehicles at its Fremont, California factory).
The famously secretive Tesla has lately opened up Gigafactory 1 to the media - CNBC and CNET also recently took tours. However, The Verge found that the section leased by Panasonic, where Tesla’s industry-leading battery cells are made, is under tighter security - no photos or videos are allowed. It’s also one of the most highly automated sections of the plant - O’Kane snuck a peek of a few human workers watching the battery assembly lines through small plexiglass windows.
Above: An inside look at Tesla's Gigafactory (Youtube: The Verge)
Building the Gigafactory was a risky move for Tesla, but a necessary one to advance the company’s bold vision of ushering mankind into a new era of sustainable energy. “Four years ago, when we were deciding on this Gigafactory and how this was going to look, we were the first to make this bold leap into putting this infrastructure [in place],” Vice President Chris Lister, Gigafactory 1’s head of operations, told The Verge. “We needed the Gigafactory to scale up quickly and be big and be bold and do things that no one else was doing so that we could really push our mission as quickly as we possibly could.”
Tesla’s mission is of course a global one, and more than one Gigafactory will be needed to fulfill it. Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York, which was originally built to be SolarCity’s main manufacturing center, is now beginning to crank out Tesla’s innovative Solar Roof tiles. The next frontier is China, where Tesla has acquired a 210-acre piece of land for the site of Gigafactory 3. The company says it plans to begin production there before the end of 2019. Tesla’s fourth Gigafactory is expected to be built in Europe - cities across the continent are said to be courting Tesla, but no location has been announced yet.
Elon Musk has said that Tesla will eventually build a dozen Gigafactories around the world, but he estimates that it would take 100 Gigafactory-size facilities to support the world’s new electromobility/sustainable energy ecosystem - and Tesla can’t do it alone. The ultimate measure of success for the Gigafactory - and for Tesla - will be whether it can inspire other companies to follow its lead.
So far, most of the legacy automakers are cautiously proceeding with plans to expand their EV offerings - while quietly lobbying governments behind the scenes to water down or eliminate emissions regulations and EV mandates.
While Daimler has moved to secure its own battery supply with the acquisition of battery producer Deutsche Accumotive, so far Volkswagen is the only major automaker to publicly discuss building a battery factory at anywhere near Tesla scale. In October, the German giant revealed plans to build a battery cell factory in partnership with supplier SK Innovation.
Above: A Model X parked at the corner of the Tesla Gigafactory (Image: InsideEVs)
While pundits prate in the press about “Tesla killers,” and push the naïve thesis that competition from the legacy brands is a threat to the California carmaker, Tesla execs keep on saying what they always have: Tesla welcomes competition, and looks forward to the day that Big Auto joins it on the road to an electric future. “For every incremental electric vehicle on the road, whether that’s a Tesla [or] a competitor, that is one less gasoline car on the road,” says Chris Lister.
Written by: Charles Morris