The start date for Tesla’s Berlin plant has been delayed—again

June 17, 2021, 6:21 PM UTC

Elon Musk, Tesla’s notoriously impatient chief executive, may have to wait until early 2022 before the first electric crossover runs off the assembly line in Germany, as the plant hits snag after snag, from permits to potential labor disputes.  

The Brandenburg state economy minister helping to facilitate construction of the plant said it would be his “biggest Christmas present” if operation could commence a little over two years after Musk decided in favor of a site near Berlin

“It’s still my hope (this can be achieved) by the end of this year,” Jörg Steinbach told reporters, during an event organized by Berlin news medium Clean Energy Wire and attended by Fortune. “Full blown production will then probably take a couple of weeks or even a few months more.” 

In the latest SEC filing for the first quarter, Tesla most recently guided for a “late 2021” start in terms of both production and delivery, both of which are now at severe risk. The plant was first announced late in 2019 with a single tweet.

Initially, Tesla’s permit application had foreseen production starting this July, an ambitious timetable Steinbach attributed to internal competition with its sister Model Y plant in Austin where the Cybertruck will also be built. The Texas site is still on track to open later this year.

Part of the problem is the bureaucratic approval process. Tesla filed a change to its permit application this month in order to include the construction of a battery cell production line in the German facility. The planned 100 Gigawatt hours of annual output would easily be enough to power at least one million electric vehicles.

On Tuesday, the government of Brandenburg said the changes were sufficiently material to require the involvement of the affected public, a process that will now last until mid-August. Only then can authorities return to reevaluate the revised plans.

“Tesla is not allowed to start the production of saleable cars before the final permit is issued. This is definitely a red line for us, but we’re trying to speed up everything,” Steinbach told reporters. 

A further potential risk to the smooth ramp-up of production is the issue of Tesla’s notorious opposition to trade unions.

Musk told Fortune in February that he would be “doing something wrong” if employees organising a works council at the plant felt it necessary to join Germany’s dominant industrial trade union, IG Metall.

For its part, IG Metall accused Tesla last June of establishing a manufacturing company under European rather than German law to circumvent participation of labor leaders at a boardroom level, a form of co-determination found at all other domestic carmakers.

Steinbach said he wanted to play an active role in brokering talks between the two sides, adding he expects Tesla to respect a corporate culture in the country that includes an influential and legally protected role for unions.

“The responses that I received so far is all rules and regulations in terms of workers’ representation will be observed and not questioned by the Tesla people in Brandenburg,” he said. 

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