Tesla founder Elon Musk danced for joy on Tuesday as he handed over his company's first "Made in Germany" electric cars to customers.
Joined by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Musk opened his first European factory in Grünheide, southeast of Berlin, after 22 months of construction and just two weeks after the final building permit was issued.
“This is a great day for the factory . . . and another step in the direction of a sustainable future,” said Mr Musk.
The Tesla factory has been welcomed by German politicians as a huge boost to the economically weak state of Brandenburg – and a shot in the arm for the wider economy.
“This is a sign that something is moving in Germany,” said chancellor Olaf Scholz at the launch. “Electromobility is the mobility of the future, that is clear since today.”
German economics minister Robert Habeck said he saw the expedited Tesla factory construction as a “pacemaker for other areas”.
“I am working towards this goal, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
Environmental activists, who failed to block the construction, blocked the factory’s entrance on Tuesday. They say the factory is out of place in Grünheide, a nature and water reserve, and will devastate local ground water levels. Two protestors abseiled from a motorway sign near the factory at lunchtime on Tuesday, causing huge tailbacks in the region.
These delays, and a series of bureaucratic hurdles, meant plans were abandoned to open the factory last July, forcing Tesla to supply customers from other plants with Model Y cars, at €55,000 each.
Now up and running, Tesla expects its Grünheide plant to produce 500,000 cars annually – one every 50 seconds – a pace analysts say is likely from 2025.
New orders from the plant could be delivered from April and the company says around 3,500 of the plant’s expected 12,000 workers have been hired so far.
In addition to jobs for qualified staff, the company is offering 10 different dual study programmes to young school-leavers. The factory will be powered exclusively with renewal energy and will generate 50 gigawatt hours (GWh) of battery power, surpassing all other plants Germany.
Taking his electric car revolution to Germany, home of the internal combustion engine, Tesla has a 13 per cent market share, compared to Volkswagen 25 per cent.
For Reiner Puls, the first Tesla customer on Tuesday, this is his fourth vehicle from the US company
“Tesla has long been a part of my family,” he told the Bild tabloid
Taking a play from Tesla, VW is planning its own €2 billion electric car factory beside its traditional plant in Wolfsburg – as well as six battery plants around the continent. The company says it has taken 95,000 electric car orders in Europe so far in 2022, but its new plant won’t open for at least four years.
Auto industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhöffer said the opening of the new factory marked a watershed for Germany’s key automobile industry.
“Tesla’s arrival highlights the failure of the German auto industry to see the future,” said Prof Dudenhöffer.
The new Tesla factory is the second piece of good news for eastern Germany. Last week chip giant Intel announced plans to build a new €17 billion manufacturing hub in Magdeburg, creating at least 3,000 jobs in the region.
As Mr Musk tweeted “Danke Deutschland” on Tuesday in Grünheide, a senior US securities regulator urged a federal court to enforce an agreement obliging Mr Musk to allow his social media account be monitored.