AUSTIN (AFP/APP): Tesla welcomed throngs of electric car lovers to Texas for a huge party dubbed a “cyber rodeo” to inaugurate a manufacturing plant the size of 100 soccer fields.
Online buzz has swelled ever since Tesla’s colorful but controversial founder and chief executive Elon Musk tweeted word of the event, with reports of perhaps as many as 15,000 guests taking part in the official plant opening in the state capital Austin.
Photos and videos began flooding Twitter after the doors of the cavernous factory opened to guests late in the afternoon with the plant decked out in a distinctive nightclub look.
Visitors mingled under red and blue lights while production machinery and Tesla models were displayed like museum artwork. Outside, cars were parked in the pattern of the Texas flag.
“I think Tesla is going to bring another level of sizzle and high tech into our community,” Austin resident Karin Richmond told AFP at the event.
Bulldozers were still at work near the so-called “gigafactory,” which signs indicated was constructed with more steel than New York City’s famed Empire State Building.
The move to a US state known for conservative Republican politics is seen by some as Musk stepping away from the liberal Silicon Valley culture in which he made his fortune.
The South African-born serial entrepreneur is now ranked the world’s richest man. He founded Tesla in Silicon Valley in 2003, but shifted its headquarters to Texas late last year.
Musk has clashed with California regulators, particularly when health precautions mandated at the height of the pandemic closed Tesla’s Fremont plant.
California is also investigating whether discrimination took place at Tesla’s plant there.
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 the Texas allure is a lack of corporate or personal income taxes. Tesla received more than $60 million in tax breaks to build the factory, which is expected to employ 10,000 people over time.
“I completely understand them moving from California, with all the taxes and everything,” said 25-year-old attendee Dirk Sanford, proprietor of a local shop.
While Musk has spoken of a desire for a shift away from climate-wrecking fossil fuels, Texas is known for oil rigs and gas-guzzling cars and trucks.
“I think he is having a bit of an identity crisis and forgotten who his customer is, and it is going to come back to bite him,” tech analyst Rob Enderle said of Musk.
“He is drifting to the right; what he doesn’t seem to remember is that most of the people who buy electric cars are the liberals.”
Giga Texas, as the plant is also called, has been in operation since late last year. It is the fifth and largest gigafactory cranking out battery packs and vehicles for Tesla.
Since starting with a car plant in Silicon Valley, Tesla has gone global with mega-factories in Berlin and Shanghai as well as in US states New York and Nevada.
The Austin plant will produce Model 3 and Y cars and eventually a Cybertruck pickup and a semi for hauling cargo trailers set to 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 seen as key in the market.
Electric truck maker Rivian has already started deliveries.
“Rivian right now is the must-have truck,” analyst Enderle said.
“The fact that Rivian was able to get a truck out faster than Tesla was points to a problem with Tesla.”
Tesla demand is outstripping supply to the point that some Model Y and 3 cars are being delivered months late in parts of the world, according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.
“The solution is mainly in Austin and Berlin,” Ives said. Gigafactory Berlin officially opened last month.
Tesla wants to ramp up production by some 50 percent annually, and should easily top that goal this year, Musk said recently.
He has delivered more than a million vehicles during the past 12 months despite production constraints caused by a global chip shortage plaguing many industries.
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