BERLIN -- With final approval for its German factory potentially just weeks away, Tesla's Elon Musk will make an appearance in the tiny town of Gruenheide this Saturday to host an open day at the plant.
Despite pandemic-related curbs limiting gatherings in Germany to under 5,000 people, Tesla applied for - and got - a permit to have 9,000 at the Oct. 9 'Giga-Fest', after local authorities agreed the event would be COVID safe.
Coming on the heels of officials allowing the company to break ground on its new site before final approval had even been granted, environmental groups say this is just the latest example of Tesla being given too much leeway to act disruptively in Germany - a pattern they worry will continue.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
The pre-approvals Musk has received from local authorities to build without final permission are legal, but rarely used by German companies because of the associated risk: if final approval is not granted, Tesla must pay to tear everything down.
While some bemoan Musk's approach as throwing German caution to the wind, others - who say German regulations governing planning, jobs and environmental concerns are unnecessarily restrictive - welcome the influence he could have on the country's business culture.
"I am fully convinced Tesla can have a positive effect on Germany," Brandenburg's economy minister Joerg Steinbach, a prominent advocate of the factory, told Reuters.
"The fundamental idea of taking a close look at current legislation and checking whether it could perhaps be modernized - without risking a loss to legal clout - is in my opinion absolutely worth considering."
The country's powerful unions are already gearing up to fight for German-style contracts for Tesla workers, environmental groups are poised to oppose any further expansion plans, and locals wary of Musk's 'American' ways are watching the automaker's every move.
"Tesla has to stick to environmental protection laws, building laws, and of course labor and unionization laws," Birgit Dietze, head of the Brandenburg region for union IG Metall and a former member of Volkswagen Group's supervisory board, said.
Musk has made his irritation for German laws and processes known, saying in a letter to authorities in April that the country's complex planning requirements were at odds with the urgency needed to fight climate change.
Once running, the factory will produce 500,000 electric cars a year and generate 50 gigawatt hours of battery capacity -- more than any other plant in the country.
Conversations between the union and applicants indicate Tesla, whose CEO is known for his rocky relationship with organized labor, is offering pay 20 percent below the collectively bargained wages offered at other German automakers, IG Metall said.
It is also shaking up conventional German contracts by offering packages with stock options and bonuses rather than predetermined holiday pay.
Driving a harder bargain with its workforce could create a competitive advantage for Tesla, whose choice to set up its first European gigafactory in the homeland of VW, Daimler and BMW has raised the stakes in the global battle for EV dominance.
Musk has already experienced German union power. When Tesla bought German supplier Grohmann Automation in 2017, it set wages 30 percent below average, refusing to match collectively bargained pay.
After the automaker offered one-off bonuses and stock options instead, unions dropped a threat to strike. Unions say stock options have also been mooted at the Brandenburg factory.