Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk is soon to announce the location of the firm's $5 billion Giga factory, the immense complex where the EV maker's next-generation battery packs will be built. We've reported on the deep politics in Texas, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico as politicians in these states vie for the promise of manufacturing jobs.
Musk is naming two sites, according to Bloomberg, saying, "What we’re going to do is move forward with more than one state, at least two, all the way to breaking ground, just in case there are last-minute issues."
It will leave one state very disappointed when the final decision is made, but it's being done to "minimize the timing risk," according to Musk. It also maintains leverage on the municipality all the way to ground-breaking. This factory will build the battery packs for the company's next-generation, $40,000-price-range vehicle, looking to begin production in 2017.
California didn’t make the short list because of the potential for regulatory and environmental delays. Nevertheless, last week's editorial in California's The Desert Sun quotes Carl Stills, energy manager of the Imperial Irrigation District, as saying, "We just got notified yesterday that Tesla is now back to considering Imperial Valley because of the location close to the potential lithium," while he was at the Coachella Valley Economic Forecast conference last week. Stills was referring to the availability of lithium in the Salton Sea, currently being extracted by Simbol Mining, a startup getting lithium carbonate from geothermal brine at the John L. Featherstone geothermal plant.
Here's our reporting from earlier this month on the politics of the Tesla factory site selection and other recent Tesla news.
The as-yet-unnamed location of Elon Musk's outrageously ambitious $5 billion Tesla battery factory has been narrowed down to Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or Nevada for a while now. Construction could potentially start this year.
Electric vehicle pioneer Tesla Motors has suggested it will be building 500,000 cars per year by 2020 and hitting a scale that will drive down the cost of its 60 kilowatt-hour battery pack by 30 percent, to about $10,000. The project aims to disrupt battery costs enough to impact the distributed storage industry.
Tesla's Giga factory will sprawl across 500 to 1,000 acres of land situated near highways and rail, with space for a few hundred megawatts of solar panels and some wind turbines.
The state that wins the factory gets billions in direct investment, as well as a potential 6,500 jobs. Politicians in these states are looking to attract the world's largest lithium-ion battery factory with the only tools at their disposal: taxpayer money and promises.
Luring Tesla with incentives at secret meetings
Texas: The San Antonio Express-News reports that unnamed Tesla executives met on Wednesday with the mayor of San Antonio, as well as with "the county's top elected official, economic development folks, and someone from the local utility company."
Despite having banned the direct sales of Tesla vehicles in its state, Texas is a contender in the race for the factory. It appears that the state's leadership might be inclined to change what Governor Rick Perry referred to as "antiquated" car dealer franchise laws in an appearance on Fox Business News.
The city of San Antonio remains under consideration, as does Lubbock, with its access to West Texas wind power, according to numerous reports.
Arizona: Despite opposition from auto dealers, Arizona's state legislature is considering a bill to allow direct sales, according to the Phoenix Business Journal.
Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild told the Arizona Daily Star that a potential site has been selected by the city. A state and city tax incentive package will be offered. The same article reported that the city of Mesa's Mayor Scott Smith, now running for Arizona Governor, sent Tesla CEO Elon Musk an invitation to visit.
According to the Phoenix Business Journal, Tesla could benefit from the same state incentives offered to Apple's new plant in Mesa, AZ, namely, "Gov. Jan Brewer and business groups support a new bill that would eliminate taxes on energy used by manufacturers." Arizona’s offer could include a 5 percent property tax rate, as well. "State lawmakers are also considering another new bill that would give income tax breaks for companies whose manufacturing facilities are powered by solar and renewable sources," according to the report.
New Mexico: The Albuquerque Journal reports that New Mexico governor Susana Martinez, a Republican, was "considering a special legislative session to work up an economic package for a possible Tesla factory." According to the report, "Democratic legislative leaders said a special session to woo Tesla would be unprecedented, and appropriate only if New Mexico has evidence that it was Tesla’s pick." In 2007, Albuquerque was close to being chosen as the site of the Tesla Roadster factory.
Nevada: Last month, the Reno Gazette reported that Tesla execs have been looking at sites around the northern part of Nevada. This month, northern Nevada is the "frontrunner," according to the Phoenix Business Journal. The Journal goes on to report that "the Reno area in northern Nevada is the odds-on favorite to land the Tesla plant," citing multiple business and political sources in Phoenix. The Reno-Stead Airport has been suggested as a possible site, with its thousands of acres available for development and ready access to rail transport.
Three reasons why Tesla should choose Texas
As GTM's Katie Tweed has reported, there is a legislative effort in a number of states to shut down Tesla from selling directly to the consumer through its own stores and forcing the company to follow laws that prohibit factory-owned dealerships. New York has agreed to allow the electric vehicle maker to keep its five company-owned outlets open, but permits no further expansion. There's a deal being made in Ohio to limit the number of Tesla outlets to three. There is still an acrimonious conflict ongoing in New Jersey. Tesla has had favorable court decisions in Massachusetts, and the EV pioneer has also won a round of court skirmishes in Minnesota.
If direct sales are banned in a state, customers can visit Tesla "galleries," but they aren't allowed to talk price or take a test drive.
Texas went through a two-month effort to pass bills in its legislature that would allow Tesla Motors to sell electric cars directly to consumers. The effort died last summer after lawmakers failed to vote on the issue before adjourning. The legislature will not meet again until 2015.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a recipient of more than $300,000 in traditional car dealer campaign contributions, bucked his donors a bit and said in an interview with the Fox Business channel that "Tesla's a big project." He told Maria Bartiromo, "The cachet of being able to say we put that manufacturing facility in your state is hard to pass up." Perry added that he thinks "the pros of allowing this to happen outweigh the cons," and that doing away with the ban on direct sales is a “conversation that is worth happening.”
Giga Factory Facts and Figures
- Tesla announced a $1.6 billion convertible debt offering. Tesla looks to offer $800 million of convertible senior notes due in 2019 and $800 million due in 2021 to build the world's largest battery factory.
- Elon Musk predicts that the new factory will produce batteries for 500,000 vehicles by 2020.
- Tesla expects to send the kilowatt-hour price of batteries down by 30 percent.
- The plan is for construction to start in 2014, with production beginning in 2017.
- The facility will hold more than 6,000 workers in 10 million square feet of factory space.
- The plant will provide recycling capability for old battery packs.
- Musk also said that Panasonic, currently supplying hundreds of millions of cells to Tesla, would likely join in on the new factory, but no commitments have been made.
Here's a rendering of the proposed plant:
Some Q4 Tesla Financials
Tesla had revenues of $615 million at a 25.2 percent gross margin in Q4. The firm sold a record 6,892 Model S vehicles during the period and expects to ship 35,000 Model S units in 2014, representing more than 55 percent growth over 2013. Production is expected to increase from the current level of 600 cars per week to about 1,000 cars per week by the end of the year. First-quarter production is expected to be about 7,400 vehicles. Battery cell supply will continue to constrain production in the first half of the year, but will improve significantly in the second half of 2014.
Tesla fire inquiry closed
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed an investigation into fires involving Tesla's Model S that may occur when road debris pierces the battery pack.
The NHTSA report reads, "Tesla's revision of vehicle ride height and addition of increased underbody protection should reduce both the frequency of underbody strikes and the resultant fire risk. A defect trend has not been identified. Accordingly, the investigation is closed."