Tesla Gigafactory: Elon Musk Reveals Construction Is Surging Ahead

Tesla’s giant Nevada Gigafactory is only one third complete and already producing batteries at speed, Elon Musk revealed on Thursday. The Tesla CEO also provided an update on the Shanghai Gigafactory that broke ground in January, revealing a concept image of how the factory will look in just nine months’ time.

“The factories are as much a part if not more than the vehicles themselves,” Musk said during the company’s unveiling of the Tesla Model Y entry-level compact SUV at the Tesla Design Studio in Hawthorne, California. “The difficulty and value of manufacturing is underappreciated. It’s insanely difficult. It’s relatively easy to make a prototype, and extremely difficult to mass manufacture that prototype.”

The Gigafactory, which Musk has referred to as the “machine that builds the machine,” is part of Tesla’s grand plan to make electric cars more affordable by mass producing batteries, bringing them to a wider audience. The Shanghai Gigafactory, which will produce affordable versions of the Model 3 and Model Y, is part of Musk’s belief that cheaper cars should be made on the same continent as consumers.

The Shanghai factory, when complete, is reportedly expected to produce around 500,000 cars per year, even though Tesla has only made 550,000 cars in its entire history. Musk showed an image of how the Shanghai site currently looks, just over two months after the ground-breaking ceremony:

Shanghai Gigafactory, as it stands.
Shanghai Gigafactory, as it stands.

Here is how Musk expects it to look when complete:

Shanghai Gigafactory, when complete.
Shanghai Gigafactory, when complete.

When Tesla first proposed the Nevada factory in 2010, it detailed a factory with 50 gigawatt-hours of annual production, even though total global output of lithium-ion batteries for all purposes was about 30 gigawatt-hours. The factory reached an annual production rate of 20 gigawatt-hours in mid-2018 and now expects to reach 150 gigawatt-hours of battery packs per year when complete.

Musk stated that “today it [the Nevada factory] produces more lithium-ion than the rest of the world combined,” but did not provide further details behind this claim. Benchmark Minerals cites global production as currently resting around 160 gigawatt-hours, while Wood Mackenzie placed the figure at 198 gigawatt-hours by the end of 2018. Tesla’s website instead claims the factory produces more batteries in terms of kilowatt-hour than all other automakers combined.

While only around one-third complete, Musk said the Nevada Gigafactory is now four to five times larger than the Pentagon and measures 70 feet tall. The factory takes around two hours to walk in its entirety.

These two factories work alongside Tesla’s two other existing plants. The company’s first factory was the Fremont plant, originally owned by the NUMMI joint venture, but Toyota took most of the equipment out. Today the Fremont building is one of the biggest in world by footprint, with 20,000 people that work at Fremont across four or five shifts. Musk likened it to a “giant cybernetic collective.” Tesla also operates a solar Gigafactory in Buffalo and has plans for a Gigafactory in Europe.

Musk underlined the achievements of building these factories by comparing it to a rocket. Where rockets are about 10 times harder to manufacture than to design, Musk suggested it’s around 100 times harder to design car manufacturing systems than to design the vehicle themselves.

“The last time any car company achieved mass manufacturing was about 100 years ago,” Musk said. “The issue is definitely not coming up with the car design, it is absolutely all about building the production system.”

Media via Tesla, Tesla Motors