Global Expansion: Learning more about Tesla's factories
Are Tesla's factories mission-critical to success? Yes. Factories are as much a tangible Tesla product as the cars that we drive or Powerwalls we use. As Elon Musk says, "the machine that builds the machine” serves an important role in Tesla's future.
Above: Tesla is building all over the globe to meet demand for its growing fleet of all-electric cars (Flickr: DennisM2)
Without the rapid construction of Tesla's factories, the company wouldn't be able to accelerate electrification of modern transport. That said, confusion regarding Tesla's factories is commonplace.
After all, it hasn't even been ten years since the release of the Model S. Since then, Tesla has expanded at an absolutely 'ludicrous' speed around the globe. So let's try to clear things up regarding Tesla's current (and future) factories cropping up all over the place.
Tesla's humble beginnings at the Fremont factory serves as a poetic metaphor for the "changing of the throne" in today's automotive world. What was once a factory used by industry goliaths, GM and Toyota, is now (gasp!) the birthplace of the electric forerunner.
The Tesla factory in Fremont, California used to be called New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) which was a joint-venture between GM and Toyota. The plant produced various Toyota and GM cars and would hit a peak production rate of just over 428,000 cars. The joint venture would come to a close in 2009 due to the global recession and the factory would close down in March 2010.
Above: Tesla's factory in Fremont, California (Source: Tesla)
Only a few months later, Tesla and Toyota announced a partnership that would include Tesla's help with the Toyota RAV4 EV which would use a Tesla powertrain. Part of the deal also involved the purchase of the old NUMMI factory.
Tesla would officially open up the factory in October 2010 and have their first Model S be delivered at a special event taking place at the Fremont Factory in June of 2012. Initially, the production lines were isolated in a small portion of the available space — they were only making 20,000 Model S in a factory that used to crank out over 400,000 cars.
Over time, Tesla incrementally expanded the company's production lines all while providing the factory a much-needed facelift. The company's forecast for the Fremont factory included a production rate of over half a million cars — eclipsing the previous limit that the NUMMI factory was capable of outputting. Not bad for a once-discarded factory from the 60s.
The original Tesla Gigafactory, now referred to as Giga Nevada, is a primary home for Tesla’s batteries. After Tesla took possession of the Fremont Factory and started producing cars, they set their sights on establishing a stable supply of batteries for their new cars and Powerwall / Powerpack stationary storage solutions.
Above: Tesla's first-ever Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada (Source: Tesla)
Similar to the Fremont factory, the first Tesla Gigafactory was born out of a partnership with a Japanese company. This time it would be Panasonic who would help Tesla with battery production. Construction of the factory started in late 2014. It's still growing too. It has about 1.9 million sq. ft. of space — the factory is only about 30% complete with plenty of room for expansion.
Gigafactory 2 is probably the most unique. Construction of the factory would begin in September 2014 and would be up-and-running in August 2017. The factory was being built by SolarCity which would actually become a subsidiary of Tesla in 2016 — giving Tesla control of the solar factory. Just as with Gigafactory 1, product development in Gigafactory 2 was originally being implemented with Panasonic.
Above: Tesla's Superchargers and solar products are produced in Buffalo (Source: Tesla)
Tesla's factory in Buffalo serves as a non-automotive play. Being the factory that produces Tesla’s solar products, it could serve a more critical role in the near future. On top of solar roof and solar panels, the factory is also responsible for producing Superchargers — a key part of Tesla’s success gaining worldwide EV adoption.
Giga Shanghai is Tesla's all-important factory in China. In late 2018, Tesla purchased land in Shanghai, China which would become the home of Tesla Gigafactory 3 and would produce both the Model 3 and future Model Y.
The factory was especially remarkable due to the speed at which it was built. With construction set to begin at the very end of 2018, the first Model 3 was off the production line in December 2019 — less than a year later.
Above: Tesla's Gigafactory in Shanghai, China (Source: Tesla)
Over time, reliance on parts from the US dropped and Made-in-China (MIC) Model 3s allowed Tesla to lower the vehicle price further in China. The Model 3 portion of the factory was finished in 2020. In 2021, the Model Y portion of the factory became operational and started delivering MIC Model Ys.
Along with the Shanghai factory, Tesla also announced that they would open a Chinese design studio that would design a new compact model to be sold internationally. Many have speculated that this vehicle will be Tesla’s $25,000 passenger car — details are scarce but clues are beginning to surface.
With North America and Asia covered, it was time for Tesla to turn its attention to Europe. A quick side note: Tesla was already operating a smaller European factory (for final assembly) in the Netherlands located in Tilburg.
In any event, with Gigafactory 3 announced and Tesla looking to rapidly expand, discussion and rumors of a European Gigafactory heated up in mid-2018. Over the years, from 2015 to its official announcement in 2019, over ten European countries were actively courting Tesla.
Above: A concept rendering of Tesla's Gigafactory in Germany that should start Model Y production mid-year (Source: Tesla)
In the end, Germany was announced as the location in late 2019. The proposed location would be just 20 miles away from Berlin and would produce both the Model Y and Model 3 at a production rate of 500,000 cars a year.
The construction of Tesla’s Germany factory started in early 2020 and is expected to begin operations in the summer of 2021. Gigafactory 4 has plans to produce the Model Y before it produces the Model 3. Additionally, the Model Y produced in Europe should be considerably different from the one that is made in Fremont and Shanghai.
During Tesla’s Battery Day, the company showed off its plans for a new 4680 battery cell as well as a structural battery pack. In addition to those (future) advancements, the European Model Y will also be the first to use Tesla’s front and rear single casting pieces, significantly reducing the parts in the car. Giga Berlin will also use Tesla’s “most advanced” paint shop.
In late 2019, Tesla revealed the iconic Cybertruck to the world. Two days after the reveal, Musk tweeted that there were 200,000 pre-orders and fan estimates have put today's reservation number at over 700,000 pre-orders. A pre-order only requires $100 refundable deposit, so not all those reservations will convert to sales, but once again Tesla has a big backlog of vehicles to get through.
Above: A look at Tesla's rapid progress on the ground in Austin (YouTube: Jeff Roberts)
Tesla decided to choose another factory location in North America once again — this time closer to the East Coast so that it could have a more central location compared to Tesla Fremont.
Giga Austin began construction in July 2020 and will be the home of Cybertruck production. As with Giga Shanghai and Giga Berlin, expect a production capacity of 500,000 cars a year with room to expand.
Okay, this one isn't confirmed (yet). For a long time, rumors (and Elon's tweets) have been circulating about Tesla's eventual arrival in India. However, the company has delayed plans to enter the emerging market. In late 2020, Musk replied to a tweet asking about Tesla’s Indian entry to which the CEO replied “next year for sure."
That said, it seems that the tweet was legit this time. In early 2021 we received word that Tesla had incorporated an Indian subsidiary that looks to set up various facilities, including a possible factory. Given India’s bursting population, it could represent an important future market for Tesla and has a good chance to be the location for a new Gigafactory.
In any event, Tesla factories now reside all across the globe with many more that could be announced soon.
An earlier version of this article appeared on EVBite. EVBite is an electric vehicle specific news site dedicated to keeping consumers up-to-date on any developments in the ever-expanding EV landscape.