Tesla just achieved another milestone in its quest for electric-vehicle world domination. The American carmaker officially opened its first gigafactory in the homeland of the automobile. Gigafactory Berlin, located in Brandenburg (a short commute away from Germany’s capital), saw the first car roll off the production line on Tuesday, and while many politicians and invited guests basked in the limelight next to company boss Elon Musk, not everyone at the event was happy.
Tesla is known to have a pretty unique relationship with the media. By unique, we mean that if they don’t like you, they simply won’t talk to you. Or invite you to any events, as seemingly what happened in Berlin. While German chancellor Olaf Scholz was giving a starstruck speech next to the world’s richest man, certain media outlets were refused entry to the opening ceremony of the new plant. The official explanation was a lack of space, but that’s a little hard to believe, considering the place has a floor area of 22,000sq-m, or roughly three football stadiums.
And it wasn’t just minor media outlets that were locked out from covering the celebrations. The ZDF, one of the biggest state-owned TV stations in Germany, was denied access to the event, and the reason seems to be critical coverage of Tesla in the past. A number of other German newspapers were also effectively banned from attending. And somewhat strangely, even a very pro-Tesla vlogger was told he wasn’t welcome. Robert Habeck, the vice chancellor and minister for the economy, was even forced to give his press statement at the back entrance of the factory to ensure it was adequately covered by the media.
Those few members of the press who were allowed in got to witness how Musk handed over the first 30 European-made Model Y units to customers, and were able to join the billionaire and Scholz on a little tour of the facility. Like or loathe Tesla, managing to build a huge €5-billion factory capable of producing 500,000 cars per year in just 22 months is pretty impressive. Even more so if you consider they had to deal with notoriously complex and bureaucratic German planning laws. One way Musk and his builders managed to speed things up was to acquire preliminary building permits, and start work on the factory under the condition that they would tear everything back down again if the final permit was denied.
The calculated gamble paid off, and final permission was granted not too long ago. A final permit for the new battery facility is still outstanding, but also likely to be granted—not at least thanks to the fact that the facility brings much-needed jobs to the region. With Tesla now building its cars in the backyard of German manufacturing giants, the pressure is on for Musk to prove he can compete, and for the Germans to show they won’t be outdone on their home turf.