At long last, Tesla’s German car factory might finally open

Tesla might be only weeks away from building its first electric cars at its newest assembly plant, situated just outside Berlin. 

Shares in the EV manufacturer surged 6.5% in early trading after Germany’s Tagesspiegel reported on Sunday that Brandenburg state authorities responsible for approving the Grünheide factory were expected to green-light series production later this week. 

An official opening ceremony is planned for March 22, the paper added, noting senior cabinet ministers from Germany’s federal government, and possibly the chancellor himself, might attend. 

The environment ministry for the state of Brandenburg, which is responsible for allocating the final permits, told Fortune on Monday that its work was nearly done.

“We are indeed in the final phase of the emission control law approval process,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email, referring to a specific environmental regulation. She declined to comment on specific dates.

Fortune was not able to reach the state chancellery for comment, and Brandenburg’s economy ministry declined to comment. Tesla does not respond out of principle to press inquiries and eliminated its public relations department over a year ago.  

Tesla first picked Germany as its next site for a “gigafactory” back in November 2019. Originally it had hoped to begin operations in the summer of last year to match the ambitious timeline achieved by its Chinese plant in Shanghai, but in June Fortune reported it had been delayed to early 2022.

The ongoing slog has come to symbolize the dilemma multinationals face when confronting Germany’s notoriously torpid bureaucracy. Photos shared on social media showcased the dozens of binders containing thousands of pages of meticulous documentation related to the Tesla factory in Germany that had gradually piled up over time.

To speed up the German plant’s time to market, Tesla took the unusual decision of building the factory before all paperwork was done, at the risk it would then have to tear everything down if the permits were denied.

Tesla’s battle with German bureaucracy became a cautionary tale that helped build momentum for reforms in the country. One of the key policies of the new government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz is a plan to cut permit process times by half.  

If all now goes smoothly, it is likely the Grünheide factory and a new Texan plant outside the state capital will both commence series production of Model Y vehicles by the end of the first quarter. 

‘Dr. Evil’

Approval of the Grünheide factory would remove a key uncertainty that has been weighing on Tesla’s stock price for weeks. The initial euphoria around the factory’s promotional “County Fair” in October, which was taken by investors as an imminent sign it would open well before the end of the year, proved premature.

Elon Musk, who had himself attended the event, antagonized a large number of locals with his “move fast, break things” Silicon Valley mentality that doesn’t translate well in Germany. During an August visit to the site, he scorned locals’ concerns that the plant’s enormous resource consumption will endanger their supply of potable water. An almost hysterical laughing fit in front of rolling TV cameras ended up making headlines across the country. 

“Just how creepy is Musk?” one Twitter user posted in German at the time, referring then to Mike Myers’s character from the Austin Powers trilogy that spoofed British agent 007’s archenemy. “He laughs like Dr. Evil when asked whether Tesla will take water away from the region.” 

Another Twitter user, furious with Musk’s mocking local concerns, had harsher words for the centibillionaire: “In my hometown the public pool has been closed for three years since the water levels are too low, what a damned a——.” 

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