When the idea of ​​Silicon Valley hits Germany’s head: Musk, who originally wanted to use German technology, did not expect the Berlin factory to become a problem

The German cultural challenges that Musk faced may have exceeded his expectations.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk only hoped to make good use of German engineering technology, but he did not expect to face much more challenges in building a factory.

This giant, pale gray factory is located east of Berlin, has its own highway exit and is surrounded by a pine forest. The Berlin Gigafactory was supposed to produce brand-new Tesla cars, but it has become a manifestation of the conflict between the ambitions of Silicon Valley companies and the German approval process.

According to local officials, this $7 billion factory will supply the fast-growing European electric vehicle market, but it will be delayed by at least six months longer than originally planned. Moreover, Tesla’s local production of cars in Germany may continue to be delayed, because a nearby factory to supply batteries has just begun construction. Tesla declined to comment.

Tesla’s first super factory in Europe has received strong support from local officials. However, due to legal challenges raised by environmental organizations, local red tape approval procedures, and Tesla’s continuous revision of established plans, factory construction has been intermittent. Tesla must also find new homes for local lizards and snakes

The continued delay of the plant’s operational date may cost Tesla a huge price. This has bought time for competitors such as Volkswagen , Mercedes- Benz and Renault , giving them the opportunity to expand their own electric vehicle product lines.

The Tesla Model 3 is currently the best-selling electric car on the European continent. But Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst who tracks the sales of electric cars in Europe, said that the total sales of the ID 3 electric sedans and ID 4 electric SUVs launched by Volkswagen last year have surpassed Tesla.

“The European electric car market is currently very hot,” Schmidt said. “This is undoubtedly a missed opportunity for Tesla, and a good opportunity for European automakers.”

It is not easy for American automakers to cross the Atlantic and find profit points in the European market. Faced with labor unions that like to find trouble, and it is difficult to cater to the preferences of local consumers, Europe has become a funding black hole for foreign automakers.

General Motors sold its European Opel and Vauxhall car businesses in 2017 after decades of losing money , and now the two have formed the Stellatis (Stellantis) company. Ford has been working hard to prevent the decline of the European market share. In May of this year, its market share in the European Union was only a mere 4%. Even Toyota, which has a 6% market share in the European market, is not as popular among local consumers as its popularity in the Asian and American markets.

When the idea of ​​Silicon Valley hits Germany's head: Musk, who originally wanted to use German technology, did not expect the Berlin factory to become a problem

Musk visited Germany in May this year

Musk chose Germany as Tesla’s third large-scale automobile assembly plant, and plans to produce about 500,000 cars a year, partly because he wants to use Germany’s expertise in engineering and manufacturing. It is these expertise that allow German automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW to dominate the global luxury car market. Last year, Musk, wearing the typical black vest, white shirt and wide-brimmed hat of a German technician, participated in the celebration of the completion of the main beam structure of the factory.

But this dressing conceals the fundamental cultural conflict at work.

“On the one hand, you have the American enthusiasm for new ideas, and you want to implement them as soon as possible,” said Rolf Lindemann, an official in Odespree County where the factory is located. “On the other hand, you will adopt the German method, think about the problem from beginning to end until you reach a conclusion, analyze the whole process in depth and try to minimize the risk.”

For Tesla, the planned delay is nothing new. For a long time, Tesla has been too optimistic about the realization of auto-driving cars, the rollout of electric long-distance trucks and rocket launches.

But the German cultural challenges that Musk faced may have exceeded his expectations. In Germany, it is impossible for him to reach a settlement with environmental activists like Manuela Hoyer. Hoyer, 61, was a former trade union organizer and lives about 10 kilometers from the factory. She is one of the few people who thinks that the construction of the factory can be stopped before the Berlin Super Factory produces the first car. Considering that the factory is about to be completed and the workers are painting walls and installing machines inside, this idea is already very unrealistic.

“When the world’s second richest man came, they rolled out the red carpet and met all his requirements.” Hoyer, who was accused of illegal intrusion into the factory, said, “This is indeed a crime, not only harmful to the environment, but also harmful to the environment. People are also harmful.”

Hoyer’s civic group continues to pay attention to the Tesla project. He himself has spoken at a public hearing on the Tesla factory project. When he sees something that he believes the factory construction violates, he will write a report or directly call the police.

Two other environmental organizations have gone to court to force Tesla to find new homes for the snakes and lizards in the factory site. According to German and European laws, both animals are considered threatened.

The plan is expected to be completed by the end of this summer, but because snakes will prey on lizards, the implementation of this plan has become more complicated. Environmentalists say that these lizards must be removed first so that they can adapt to their new habitat. In this way, the lizards will have a chance to survive when their predators come back.

The environmental organization trying to sue Tesla said that they themselves believe that they cannot stop the plant construction project. But they want to prevent Tesla from taking shortcuts. They have already succeeded in reducing the number of trees that Tesla is allowed to cut down.

“Not everything can be done at Tesla’s speed,” said Christiane Schröder, the local director of the environmental protection organization.

Tesla did not take Germany’s hard-line unions and the laws that favored them seriously. Birgit Dietze, head of the regional division of the German metal industry trade union, which represents German auto workers, said in an email that this “depends on what employees” ultimately hope to achieve. “If they want to organize for good working conditions and sign a wage contract, we will support them.”

But local officials are firmly on Tesla’s side. They pointed out that the Tesla Berlin factory is expected to create more than 10,000 jobs, and it will also drive suppliers, nearby retailers and other local companies to add thousands of jobs.

Brandenburg State Minister of Economy Jörg Steinbach helped persuade Tesla to build a plant in Grünheide. The success of this project is also related to his personal future. For opponents of this project, Steinbach said, “The noise they make is not proportional to their number.”

But Steinbach also expressed some dissatisfaction with Tesla’s indifference to local public opinions. He complained that because Tesla rarely tried to communicate with the local community, he often had to act as a spokesperson for Tesla.

“I have said it more than once: I am not a Tesla spokesperson,” Steinbach said.

German officials said that some of the delays were caused by Tesla itself. The company has revised at least 15 applications for building permits, and must re-approve provisional approvals.

Whenever construction starts, Tesla’s Berlin Gigafactory has already begun to take shape. The local drone operator showed a photo of the top of the factory taken from the air, and you can see rows of skylights and mushroom-shaped ventilation ducts. The loading area on the ground is always ready to receive parts and raw materials.

Glenhead Mayor Arne Christiani believes that the factory is an opportunity for local revival. He believes that those who oppose the establishment of the factory are only a minority. Glenhead said that he hopes that the scale of the factory will be larger and that it will attract other companies to the area.

“There are many opportunities now, we didn’t even think about it two years ago,” Christiani said.

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