Sunday, October 17, 2021

Elon Musk Goes to Germany

Yes, indeed, Angela Merkel’s Germany is showing us the way. It is showing us how to compete against China in the matter of industrial efficiency.

In question, the new Tesla factory being built outside of Berlin in what used to be called East Germany.

The Financial Times reports on the progress:

After Tesla founder Elon Musk proposed building the electric carmaker’s first European “gigafactory” in a forest outside Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed it as proof of “how things can be achieved in a short time” in Germany’s former communist east.

Boasting is good. After all, we are good at boasting too. 

Reality is another story:

Almost two years on, environmental protests and bureaucratic battles have frustrated the Tesla chief executive’s hopes to shake up Germany’s staid auto industry, delaying the grand opening by several months and leaving Musk pleading for an “active process” to speed up such tasks.

Last week Musk himself traveled to Germany to celebrate the fact that the new plant was well behind schedule. It was quite a party. And yet, the stark facts, as reported by the FT, were that the Germans, now into their second year building the factory, were not going to beat the Chinese, who built a factory in Shanghai in less than six months. But, don't worry. We and Germany are more woke.

But away from the Ferris wheel and dodgems, there was stark evidence of Tesla’s struggle to match its record-breaking feat from 2019 of building its Shanghai gigafactory in just 168 days.

What did the reporters see? A party….

Empty halls where assembly lines will sit were compensated for with whirring red and yellow robots, their movements occasionally accompanied by pulsating techno music from a nearby DJ. Strategically placed LED lighting and video installations plugged other gaps, such as in the half-finished paint shop.

Other areas, such as the innovative casting section, were devoid of life, save for the handful of staff in branded black jackets shepherding visitors. Placards promoting the economic benefits that the multi-billion-dollar plant would bring to Brandenburg, one of Germany’s poorer states, were prominent.

So, when you are thinking about how easy it will be to compete against China, and to onshore manufacturing-- aside from the fact that we probably do not have the human capital to do so-- we have the same infirmities that Germany suffers-- too many bureaucrats, diversity quotas and environmental impact studies. 

As Tom Friedman once opined, we cannot even build an effective high speed rail system.


David Foster said...

"can't build a high-speed rail system"...yet somehow, we can build space vehicles that can take passengers or cargo into space and return them safely. Not to trivialize the technical and construction challenges of high-speed rail, but I'd warrant that building space vehicles is a more difficult undertaking.

The problems with high-speed rail largely have to do with political involvement--such things as decisions about routes, in the case of direct government funding, endless environmental reviews even when the project and funding are private...and the problems of land acquisition, which are a lot more difficult than they were in the great railway building projects of the 1800s.

And, all due respect to Friedman (which isn't much), I question whether HSR really needs to be a national priority. The US is a lot bigger than, say, France. There are individual routes where HSR could make sense, but a national network?

Best prospect for an actual, operational HSR system in the US is probably this one:

Funding is private, with an estimated cost of $20B. If Friedman is an accredited investor, he can probably participate.

Freddo said...

Who could have predicted that? Keep this in mind every time some feckless european leader pronounces that they want more local semiconductor capacity.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I hope that you are all consoled because we can send people into outer space. On the other hand, China just fired a hypersonic missile around the world--showing, among other things, that it's not merely that we cannot build high speed rail-- our intelligence agencies cannot even keep track of the competition.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

David Foster said...

"I hope that you are all consoled because we can send people into outer space."

I'm not particularly interested in being consoled, but I think it's important to understand problems in order to solve them. There are specific reasons why we can build spaceships better than we can build HSR systems.

Sam L. said...

I have ridden a train, twice. Once from North Dakota to show off our first child to the grandparents,and then back. It was about 12 hours each way.

As for Tesla, the greenies in Europe are far worse to deal with than those here,