No sooner had the jubilation over the news that the European Tesla Gigafactory will be built in Germany faded away than open and hidden resistance began to form.
The open resistance has manifested itself over the past few days in demonstrations where the factory opponents are worried about the water and the forest on the land where Gigafactory is to be built. Native bats are also to be resettled in the commercial forest. The locals are not only afraid of impending interference with nature, but also that the idyll in their area will be over. Some residents are worried about the traffic, which will cause more than ten thousand employees in the final stage, others fear a possible increase in crime(!).
The trade unions are also already sharpening their knives and preparing for “troubles“. For example, the labor union IG Metall mocked the fact that the job advertisements for the Gigafactory were also written in Polish. After all, the Polish border is only 60 kilometers away, so it seems a natural catchment area for qualified workers. But the trade union is already painting the devil of wage dumping on the wall, despite the fact that the EU is imposing some rules on it and citizens of other EU countries must not be discriminated against.
The supporters of the factory are also gathering. A sometimes larger number of supporters also turned up at each demonstration. For the time being, however, the area is partially cordoned off due to unexploded ordinances from the Second World War.
Less public, but all the more effective, stalling resistance from politics and administration could have an impact on the completion of the Gigafactory. Economics Minister Jörg Steinbach (SPD) bluntly threatened in an interview: “I am quite happy that we do not have the overall responsibility for this, but that Tesla is also the architect of his own fortune” and “Tesla must submit the documents so completely and in such high quality that they can be checked as quickly as possible”.
Such comments signal not only to Tesla, who is in command here, but also internally to his own bureaucracy that someone is probably being set up to get the ball rolling. Although the minister believes that the Gigafactory can be ready in one and a half to two years, he also refers to the EU subsidies that have been used to lure Tesla. In general, the timetable for opening the factory in 2021 is “ambitious”, according to the authorities.
And because we are talking about signaling: the construction of the Tesla Gigafactory is being closely monitored internationally. In Shanghai, for example, only 357 days have passed between the ground-breaking ceremony for the Tesla Gigafactory 3 and delivery of the first vehicles. Just how quickly things are generally being tackled in China can be seen with the outbreak of the Corona virus. In Wuhan, two hospitals for 1,000 patients are currently being built in less than a few days.
Other regions are also prepared to help companies build factories in a very short time. Californian electric car manufacturer Lucid Motors, for example, expects that the first cars will roll out of its factory, which was started in early December 2019, before the end of 2020.
In contrast, Berlin Airport (BER) is the counterpart, which is already considered an international laughing stock. After 15 years of planning, construction began in 2005 with 2011 as the then planned completion date. But by 2020 the airport is still not open. Other major projects, such as Stuttgart 21, the lack of power lines or broadband Internet access, which is unworthy of an industrial nation, are prominent examples of if not absolute failure, then at least of the great crunch in the gears of German bureaucracy, politics and business.
In this respect, the Gigafactory 4 is probably the last chance for Germany to prove the opposite to everyone. Is Germany still capable of completing larger projects within an internationally usual time schedule, or not? The pride in its own laws, which emphasize environmental protection, citizen participation and data protection in this way, is increasingly being used as a tool against any change.
Not Tesla, however, will be in a bad position if there are delays in the construction of Gigafactory 4. The international public will almost certainly blame Germany’s politics and administration. The company has proven that Tesla can do it with Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai. If a timetable twice as long cannot be met in Germany, then the public will not see Tesla in accountability, but Germany.
In other words: Germany has the most to lose, not Tesla. The signal effect to the outside world will be devastating. Germany is already losing more and more ground in digital technology, and no one will want to set up a production facility in the country if even a prominent player like Tesla cannot manage it. Nobody in the country can want German impotence and incompetence to dominate the external image of major projects.
But what will be bitter is this: If Tesla is successful and opens the factory in 2021 as announced, then the success will be credited to Tesla. Not Brandenburg or Germany will be celebrated internationally, but Tesla. Brandenburg – and thus Germany – will at least no longer be seen as a hindrance. At least a small profit. The reputation that Germany can do must first be earned again. And we have to want it.
Another question that arises is whether Tesla has a plan B in case of emergency? What if the targeted completion is not only delayed by a few months from 2021 to spring 2022, but it appears that it will be delayed a year or more? Can Tesla abandon the project and move to another location instead? There are plenty of plots on offer, every country and region in Europe has offered locations and generous subsidies.
But perhaps it doesn’t matter at this point in time, and if the share price continues as it has in recent months, Tesla may by then have acquired a competitor like Daimler or BMW and is rebuilding their factories for its electric vehicle purposes.
This article was also published in German.