Tesla welcomed throngs of electric car enthusiasts to Texas on Thursday for a huge party dubbed a “cyber rodeo” to inaugurate a manufacturing plant the size of 100 football fields.
Photos and videos flooded Twitter as guests explored the cavernous factory decked out in a distinctive nightclub look.
Visitors mingled under red and blue lights as production machinery and Tesla models were displayed like museum works of art. Outside, cars were parked in the pattern of the Texas flag.
Bulldozers were still at work near the so-called “gigafactory”, whose signs said it had been built with more steel than New York’s famous Empire State Building.
“It’s the equivalent of three Pentagons,” colorful but controversial Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk proudly told a cheering crowd inside the factory.
“It’s the most advanced automobile factory the Earth has ever seen; raw materials on one side, cars on the other.”
Musk took the stage in the first production model Tesla ever built and walked out dressed in black with a cowboy hat and sunglasses.
He said ramping up production of existing models is going to be Tesla’s top priority this year.
“We’re going to go to a really massive scale,” Musk said. “This needs to happen in order to transition the world to sustainable energy.”
Goodbye Silicon Valley
The move to a US state known for its conservative Republican politics is seen by some as a move away from Musk from the liberal Silicon Valley culture in which he made his fortune.
The South African-born serial entrepreneur is now ranked as the richest man in the world. He founded Tesla in Silicon Valley in 2003 but moved its headquarters to Austin, Texas late last year.
Musk clashed with California regulators, particularly when health precautions imposed at the height of the pandemic shuttered the Tesla factory in Fremont.
California is also investigating whether discrimination took place at Tesla’s factory.
Musk told the crowd that Tesla was continuing to expand in California but was running out of space there.
“We needed a place where we could be really big, and there’s no place like Texas,” Musk said.
It remains to be seen how Musk will navigate conservative policies in Texas, such as the state’s restrictive new abortion law and limits on seeking health services for transgender children.
Part of Texas’ appeal is a lack of corporate or personal income tax. Tesla received more than $60 million in tax breaks to build the factory.
While Musk has spoken of a desire to move away from climate-destroying fossil fuels, Texas is known for its oil rigs and gas-guzzling cars and trucks.
“I think he’s got a little identity crisis and he’s forgotten who his client is, and it’s going to come back to bite him,” technical analyst Rob Enderle said of Musk.
“He’s drifting to the right. What he doesn’t seem to remember is that most people who buy electric cars are liberals.”
Giga Texas, as the plant is also called, has been in operation since late last year. It is the fifth and largest factory to manufacture batteries and vehicles for Tesla.
From its beginnings with a car factory in Silicon Valley, Tesla has gone global with mega-factories in Berlin and Shanghai as well as the US states of New York and Nevada.
The Austin plant will produce Model 3 and Y cars and possibly a Cybertruck pickup and semi-trailer to haul cargo trailers that will go into production next year, according to Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell.
Pickup trucks are a hot item in the United States, and having a winning electric model is considered essential in the market.
Electric truck maker Rivian has already started deliveries.
“Rivian is the go-to truck right now,” said analyst Enderle. “The fact that Rivian was able to get a truck out faster than Tesla indicates a problem with Tesla.”
Tesla’s demand is outstripping supply to the point that some Model Y and 3 cars are shipping months late in some parts of the world, said Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.
“The solution is mostly in Austin and Berlin,” Ives said.
Tesla “has a chance” to begin production of its Optimus humanoid robot in Austin next year, according to Musk.
The robot will do everything people don’t want to do, he argued.
“We’re also going to make sure it’s safe, no ‘Terminator’ stuff,” he joked, referring to the hit action movie about a killer cyborg.