My Car Quest

June 29, 2022

Editorial: The Tesla Struggle in Germany

by Wallace Wyss –

In November 2019 Elon Musk announced what amounted to a coup if it worked–Tesla would build its latest electric car plant in Germany, the heart of European auto manufacturing, and home to Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and VW. I think his goal was to build it in a year and within a full year of production, surpass the output of one of those firms.

He is, of course, importing Teslas from Shanghai to Germany but it’s taking too long to make delivery. The new plant would be making Model 3s, the newest model.

He chose a town called Grünheide, Germany, as the site of the $4.9 billion (€4 billion) plant, roughly 24 miles east of Berlin. He got the plant up and running (now making pilot models) but has hit one obstacle after another, such as being awarded environmental approval from the state of Brandenburg. Of course he did the Germans a favor when he got unexploded World War II shells removed. But then came resistance from groups he didn’t figure had so much power–environmentalists, first incensed over mowing down acres of trees.

Fine, said Musk, we’ll plant three more for every one we cut. Then came the advocates for smooth snakes. Seems like Musk could build a building just to breed them, as many as ya want. Then the bat lobby–with the trees gone where do the bats hang it up at night? I won’t even mention the ant lobby. A multi-billion dollar factory delayed by ants?

Tesla Gigafactory Germany

Image by Tesla

Finally the water. It seems like they could have checked out how much clean water was available for use before he started building but the trouble is that he had only temporary permits. Now that the buildings are done he’s trying to get permanent permits. But there’s layers of officials. Apparently no one told him about the nearby airport. It was built in a couple years ago but couldn’t open for 10 years. All that time lost waiting for approvals. And then there’s the union. Musk knew he couldn’t go non-union as IG Metall, Germany’s biggest labor union, wouldn’t stand for that.

There’s even talk that he could be fined for possible violations of labor laws during construction and for installing sewer pipes without permission. Musk wanted to beat BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche and VW on their on turf. But he couldn’t do that importing his cars from so far off. But if the German factory could produce 500,000 cars a year, he would have a good chance of being a major German automaker.

It could be that Musk was “spoiled” by Shanghai–they gave him what he wanted, knowing any sort of protest in China halting business progress is squelched in short order. Even if Musk does an about face and loads all his machines on railroad flat cars and decamps his entire factory for re-installation in Poland, what to do with an existing German factory he bought–Grohmann Engineering, rebranded Tesla Grohmann?

What the Germans are losing by dragging their heels is the opportunity to portray Germany as an attractive place to base a manufacturing plant. Having that “Made in Germany” label may not be worth the torture Musk is enduring. Ironically even Porsche is having one model made in an Eastern European country. Even Porsche doesn’t think the Made in Germany label is all that important. I think that Elon should show the true spirit of an entrepreneur, pick up the plant and move it. By playing all their petty games, and thereby losing a major jobs creator, Germany would no longer be thought of as a place to do manufacturing. The whole worldwide switchover to electric cars wanted so much by environmentalists might be slowed, so they will have shot themselves in the foot.

Without Tesla making electric cars on German soil, the other German automakers might lose steam and slow the pace of zero emissions cars becoming the majority.

What say you?

NOTE: This is a part of an emerging book tentatively entitled How Tesla Broke Detroit, authored by Wyss. Interested publishers can reach Wyss at photojournalistpro2@gmail.com

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car histories and has lectured on design at the Art Center College. He is co-host of a car show on KUCR FM Riverside, CA.

 
 

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Editorial: The Tesla Struggle in Germany
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Editorial: The Tesla Struggle in Germany
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In November 2019 Elon Musk announced what amounted to be a coup if it worked--Tesla would build its latest electric car plant in Germany, the heart of European auto manufacturing.
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Comments

  1. An interesting story about Musk’s experience in Germany. Sort of makes California look like a walk in the park! (Some jest here). Where Musk had an advantage in Fremont, California is that the manufacturing plant already existed (former GM then NUMMI). Starting from scratch in California though would have likely been a similar story to Musk’s German travails. I know from personal experience. Environmental regulations are deal killers for many potential businesses that will create jobs and improve the lives of residents in the area. It sounds like Musk was trying to comply and work with the environmental groups, but it can be “death by a thousand cuts” sometimes dealing with a vocal minority that can make life a nightmare for companies wanting to create manufacturing jobs and for those who want or need such jobs. Even if a local government wants such a facility and tries to provide needed help, all it takes is a lawsuit filed by an environmental group to spike a project and delay things for years potentially. This is why China and other third world countries continue to prosper to the detriment of the U.S. and other western countries. I wish Musk luck in his German endeavor but agree he should pack it in and go elsewhere where his plans are more welcome.

  2. Wallace,

    Great article as always! “Ironically even Porsche is having one model made in an Eastern European country.” Could you tell us which Porsche model is made in Eastern Europe and where in Eastern Europe it is being made? This is news to me. Please let us know because if I am unaware of it, other readers might be as well. Thanks again for all the great articles. I know your new book will be phenomenal. Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  3. wallace wyss says

    the first Porsche model produced in Slovakia. In 2014, the Volkswagen carmaker announced it would move the production of luxury SUV Cayenne model from Leipzig to its plant in Bratislava.Aug 31, 2017

    Alo when the Boxster was very popular, some assembly was in Finland

    Uusikaupunki (Valmet, 1997–2011)

  4. Thanks, Wallace!!! I wonder how many Cayenne owners realize their luxury SUV is made in Bratislava in Slovakia instead of Germany!!! Thanks again!!! Glenn in Brooklyn, NY

  5. Remember when Cadillac customers complained about buying a caddy but getting a Oldsmobile engine. How time has changed.

  6. wallace wyss says

    NEWS UPDATE: While he is waiting fro the German rulesmakers, Musk announced he will double the size of the Chinese plant. The Germans will lose those 20,000 jobs while they dither…

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