COLD-BLOODED
Fortune India|April 2021
ELON MUSK IS NOT ABOUT TO LET A FEW ENDANGERED REPTILES THROW A WRENCH INTO TESLA’S PLANS FOR A GERMAN GIGAFACTORY— AND EUROPEAN DOMINATION.
VIVIENNE WALT

IN LATE 2019, TALKS WERE BREWING in Berlin over a multi­ billion­dollar deal so secret it needed its own code name— one that evoked the cloak­and­dagger espionage of the city’s old Communist days: Project Anushka. “Everyone thought it must be related to Russia,” says Axel Vogel, Minister of the Environment for the state of Brandenburg, home to the German capital.

As it turned out, no Russians were involved. Instead, in November of that year, Germans finally learned who was behind the biggest investment the country had seen in decades: none other than Elon Musk.

“We’ll see you more often in Berlin,” Musk gushed that No­ vember night as he took the stage to accept an industry award, and then stunned the audience by announcing a massive new factory in the city. “I love Berlin. It’s great!”

Project Anushka was a reference to an old Soviet biplane in which German officials had whisked the Tesla CEO over the proposed site for the company’s newest Gigafactory. The flyover was an edgy, stylish touch aimed at winning over an exec known for his edgy style. “Giga Berlin” as Musk calls the factory, will be the living embodiment of that persona. “It will be cool and fun,” he told Fortune in a long interview in late January, wherein he laid out his vision for a huge push into Europe. “I’m aiming to have it be a real gem.”

German officials had strong mo­ tivation for wooing Musk: His plan is epic. In a largely forgotten area of former East Germany, about 20 miles from the capital, Musk is racing to finish a vast facility capable of turning out, beginning as early as this sum­ mer, European­built Teslas—at a pace he expects will reach 500,000 cars a year by 2023. Musk also plans to add a battery factory that will be “the big­gest by far in Europe, and one of the biggest in the world,” he says.

No less important is the flood of new jobs the factory will bring to the region, beginning with “at least 20,000 people,” he says, and rising over time to about 50,000 hires.

But as Musk has learned, the smallest of details can complicate the biggest of deals—and trip up even a man who has sent rockets (and his company’s stock price) into the stratosphere.

As construction began on the fac­ tory last June, many living nearby expressed huge excitement that one of the world’s most valuable compa­ nies had handpicked their backyard to launch its big move into Europe.

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