Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Model 3 Friday night to an audience of cheering employees at the company’s Fremont factory location. But Tesla’s first affordably-priced electric vehicle wasn’t the only thing Musk was showing off. He also made a point of giving Tesla fans a look at the nearly-complete Gigafactory. And although the Model 3 is exciting, it’s really the Gigafactory — or rather the Gigafactory’s potential — that we should be paying attention to.
Musk showed off a cool time lapse video of the factory being built outside of Sparks, Nevada. The company broke ground on the site back in 2014. “We started out with it being nothing, just desert, and built what is now the largest battery factory in the world,” he said. “And when it’s done [it] will produce more lithium ion batteries than the rest of global production combined, from one building.”
The presentation then panned to a live feed from the Gigafactory, where a bunch of employees waved and cheered.
Supplying Tesla with rechargeable battery packs and powertrains, Musk explained that the giant Gigafactory is a key component in his plan to eventually manufacture 500,000 Model 3s; aiming to have production pumping out 10,000 cars a week by the end of next year. The Gigafactory will be exclusively responsible for manufacturing all of Tesla’s vehicle batteries, but the multiple-billion-dollar structure will probably play a central role in much more than that.
During a quarterly call with investors back in February, Musk explained how future Gigafactories in Europe and the U.S. will produce cars as well as batteries:
“There’s a lot more automation [manufacturing the Model 3] than there is for S and X. We have the Gigafactory [making] powertrains, power electronics, charger, a few other things. That’s a huge asset. I also refocused most of Tesla engineering into designing the factory — in the future, the factory will be a more important product than the car itself. I’ve said this before, but our goal is to be the best manufacturer on Earth. [That's] the real goal. I don’t know if it will succeed but I think we are making good progress into its direction.”
The first Gigafactory has been a major cornerstone in Musk’s push to transform global energy consumption; producing both batteries and cars. When fully complete, it’s expected to produce batteries faster than bullets from a machine gun. This is thanks to a combination of size, scale, and robot automation.
The Gigafactory is named after the factory’s productivity hopes, as explained on Tesla’s site:
The name Gigafactory comes from the factory’s planned annual battery production capacity of 35 gigawatt-hours (GWh). “Giga” is a unit of measurement that represents “billions”. One GWh is the equivalent of generating (or consuming) one billion watts for one hour — one million times that of one kWh.
The Gigafactory’s production capacity is so great that 100 Gigafactories would be enough to completely transition the world onto renewable energy.
For now, it will focus on supplying the needs of the Model 3. Tesla sees the Model 3 as the first step in the company’s transition from a luxury car brand to an all-encompassing clean energy company that produces mass market vehicles in conjunction with individual solar power solutions and utility-scale energy storage.
With additional reporting by Jack Crosby and Mike Brown.