While Tesla’s Gigafactory won’t officially host its grand opening until Friday in Nevada, members of the media toured the plant on Tuesday and shared perspectives ranging from being fans to skeptics.
Two years after construction began, the $5 billion factory is expected to nearly double global production of lithium-ion batteries. The factory is about 14 percent complete, but when it’s finished, it will be about 10 million square feet. In partnership with Panasonic and other suppliers, the battery factory is considered to be pivotal in Tesla’s plan to produce 500,000 units of the Model 3 by 2018.
Wired’s Jack Stewart was fascinated with the robotic technologies being deployed in the factory, which you can view in his video report. Robots are taking cells made in its Fremont, Calif., plant, and assembling them into battery packs. Robots will be doing much of the work in the factory, with engineers working at desks close to production lines. Engineers are keeping a close eye on what Tesla CEO Elon Musk calls “the machine that will make the machine.”
Tesla is also tapping into its human potential, Stewart wrote. Even though 14 percent of the factory is finished, 1,000 people are working seven days a week to hit the production deadline. Crews work among the Tesla employees already building Powerall and Powerpack home and industrial energy storage units using cells built at Tesla’s factory in Fremont.
Bringing down production costs is essential for the Gigafactory to work out. Stewart was impressed that the Gigafactory will one day bring everything needed to build batteries under one roof. Raw materials like lithium will eventually arrive by rail, he wrote.
Katie Fehrenbacher, a writer for Fortune and a previous editor at GigaOM, focused on the grand scheme to build the world’s largest supplier of lithium-ion batteries. Musk and CTO JB Straubel told press that during the initial stages of designing the factory, the team realized that they could make two to three times more batteries at the Gigafactory than they originally planned in 2014. That came after Tesla’s initial promise to produce more than the world’s entire output of lithium-ion batteries.
Gigafactory is the latest round of Musk’s tendency to push the edges of the envelope, according to Fehrenbacher. “The move is the latest example of how billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk tends to aggressively amplify risk, instead of shying away from it, while opting for oversized moves, instead of incremental ones,” she wrote.
The Gigafactory’s progress is an achievement on a personal level, not just a business one for Musk. He described the factory, which is set in the Nevada desert amidst thousands of wild horses, as “incredibly romantic,” according to Fehrenbacher.
Dave Lee, North America technology reporter for BBC News, took a more cynical perspective on Tesla Motors taking on too much too soon. “It is part of Mr. Musk’s nature to throw out lavish, expensive ideas in the same way people in the real world might discuss buying a new shirt or ordering a pay-per-view movie,” he wrote.
Tesla’s “masterplan” announced last week will bring up the tab with its extravagant plan to roll out electric trucks and buses, solar roofing, energy storage, and a fleet of self-driving Tesla to compete with Uber. Asked during the media field trip on Tuesday how much his masterplan might cost to implement, Musk replied: “Tens of billions,” with a shrug, according to Lee.
Stock market analyst “Montana Skeptic” was even less impressed with the factory tour. It’s certainly nothing to celebrate, he wrote in Seeking Alpha.
“The simple truth? Tesla is far behind both its construction schedule and its employment promises. Sure, Nevada politicians pretend Tesla’s progress is satisfactory. Shocking, isn’t it, that elected officials also fib,” wrote the Montana Skeptic.