Musk Talks Tesla Semi & Lower Priced Car Production At Grünheide

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According to Handelsblatt, Elon Musk visited the Tesla Gigafactory in Grünheide, Germany, this week to give a talk to the workers and staff. During his 20-minute presentation, he said it could “make sense” to manufacture the Tesla Semi at the German factory. He also confirmed that high-volume production of the Tesla Semi will be up and running by the end of the year.

As with all pronouncements by Elon, this statement should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Production of the Semi began at Gigafactory 1 in Nevada in 2022, and so far as anyone can tell, only a few examples have actually been built and delivered. One could draw an inference that those trucks are pre-production prototypes that are being used to provide real-world feedback before volume production begins. Musk adores having others do his beta testing for him.

The reason for Musk’s trip to Grünheide was the arson attack on the factory’s power supply on March 5, which led to a forced shutdown in production that lasted about a week. While he was at it, Musk also confirmed the future Tesla compact electric car will be manufactured in Germany. Currently, only the Model Y is rolling off the production line in Grünheide, at a rate of about 1300 cars a day.

Tesla says the Semi has a range of 500 miles (around 800 kilometres), but the company has yet to publish any official information on the payload, battery capacity, or power. In the US, the Semi is categorized as a Class 8 truck with a gross vehicle weight of up to 80,000 lb. Electric trucks are allowed to exceed this limit by a further 2,000 lb. Tesla stated some time ago that it has achieved that 500-mile range with an 82,000 lb Semi, implying it was accomplished with a full load.

However, the weight of the Semi, which determines the payload, remains a big question mark. Electrive points out that Class 8 trucks can have a tare weight of 12,000 to 25,000 lb. Naturally, the size of the payload it can carry is a function of how much the tractor weighs.

The price of the electric truck also remains unclear. Shortly after the prototype was unveiled in 2017, Tesla stated an “expected base price” of $150,000 for the basic Semi model with 300 miles of range. At the time, $180,000 was quoted for the 500-mile variant and $200,000 for the “Founders Series” version. Since then, Tesla has not commented on its price expectations.

As Zachary Shahan reported two months ago, Tesla is pursuing a major expansion of its Nevada Gigafactory, which may be a sign that full production of the Semi is actually on the horizon. “It’s funny that Tesla didn’t highlight this in its shareholder letter, but that’s why I’m considering it a potential sneak attack,” Zachary wrote. “As everyone knows, ramping up production is tough. Elon Musk famously called the Model 3 ramp-up ‘production hell.’ Perhaps with the uncertainty that comes with it and other struggles with timelines, Musk just decided to stay quiet on this in the recent investor updates.”

The fact that Musk has been largely quiet about Semi production has Zachary perplexed. “Can we be hopeful about this?” he asked. “In a time when Tesla is quite down in the dumps (see: stock price graph this week and talk of lower sales growth in 2024), is this pure hopium and hype, or is this a big news item worthy of celebration and optimism? I tend to think it’s the latter, but then again, I’m an eternal optimist.

“On the flip side, Elon Musk is often not one to hold back good news or expectations of good news. Especially in the context of hurting sales growth and gross profit, one would think that he’d be eager to share news of growing Semi production and 4680 production if he was bullish on progress in the coming quarters. The only thing mentioned about the Semi in the shareholder letter is that it’s in pilot production.”

Expanding The Tesla Gigafactory In Germany

During his visit, Musk also confirmed the expansion plans for the Tesla plant in Grünheide. When asked about the expansion of the plant, Musk said, “Absolutely,” adding: “I think it’s a great place.” Tesla has been facing resistance to the plans to expand its factory. In mid-February, the citizens of Grünheide rejected an expansion of the factory site by a majority vote.

The company wants to build a freight depot, warehouses, and a company daycare center on an additional 170 hectares alongside the existing 300-hectare factory site. The plans were made public in 2022. The referendum focused on these new areas, but Tesla also wants to expand the plant on the existing factory site. However, the latter was explicitly not put to the vote.

In February, precisely what would happen after the vote was still unclear. According to media reports, the vote is not legally binding. Still, Grünheide’s mayor, Arne Christiani, said that the rejected development plan would no longer be presented to the municipal representatives in its current form. City representatives met on March 14 and will meet again on May 16. In addition, the state parliament’s finance committee would have to approve the sale of the land by the forestry organisation for the state of Brandenburg.

Tesla wants to double its production capacity in Grünheide from 500,000 units to one million EVs per year, and, according to Brandenburg’s Ministry of the Environment, is also planning to “increase battery storage production capacity from the current 50 to 100 gigawatt hours per year in the future.” The battery cells for those energy storage devices would be made at the Grünheide factory as well.

The Takeaway

Tesla is facing growing pressure from unions and environmentalists in Europe who are unhappy with the company’s plans and rather high handed approach to anyone who dares oppose its expansionist tendencies. Elon’s modus operandi is to belittle and humiliate opponents, which may not be the most effective way to manage opposition. Nevertheless, Tesla is moving forward with plans to expand its German Gigafactory and add other models to the assembly line.

The question on everyone’s mind is whether the company can continue to increase sales as promised. Musk said some time ago Tesla sales would increase 50% a year for years to come (on average), but that dream is under pressure at the moment. Tesla needs to maintain its momentum in the face of supply chain issues and increased competition from other electric car manufacturers. Grünheide will serve as a test case for whether Tesla can continue to defy the odds and ramp up production successfully.


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