Two years after Elon Musk elicited audible gasps from an awards show audience with his surprise announcement that Tesla would build a factory outside Berlin, the project is nearing fruition and the hype has never been more palpable.
One analyst recently compared the series of innovations Musk is pursuing at the plant with Henry Ford’s revolutionary moving assembly line.
Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess this month expressed worry Tesla will be able to build an electric car in a third of the time it's taking his company — a disparity that would jeopardize jobs.
Musk has billed the novelties Tesla is working on as transformative to the structural design of its vehicles. He wants to use massive machines — as long as a semitrailer and tall as a two-story home — to produce front and rear body parts using single pieces of metal. Pulling this off would save time and cost, reduce weight and improve driving range.
All this buzz will sound familiar to those who followed the launch of the Model 3 a few years back.
Musk touted an effort to build a highly automated "alien dreadnought" manufacturing system that went disastrously awry and nearly bankrupted Tesla. Today, the company has vastly more resources to support its CEO's desire to push the envelope with regard to how cars are made.
"The big picture here is that Tesla has the opportunity to completely reinvent the car manufacturing process for vehicle production and factories," Adam Jonas, Morgan Stanley’s top auto analyst, wrote in a report last month. "Tesla is building the car factory of the future."
Musk summed up Tesla's pursuit in a simple way early this year. "With our giant casting machines, we are literally trying to make full-size cars in the same way that toy cars are made," he tweeted in January.
On billboards placed around Tesla's factory when it opened to the public for a day last month, Tesla said it would inject aluminum into the world's largest die-casting machines, which will then clamp the metal using 6,100 tons of pressure — a force equivalent to 1,020 African elephants standing on the tool to form parts.
The plant will house eight of these machines, with Musk aiming to eventually stamp out the two biggest parts of its Model Y SUVs — the front and rear underbodies — each with just one piece of metal. The current Model 3, by contrast, comprises 70 metal pieces just for the rear underbody.