Tesla factory delays show ‘how we stand in our own way’: German industry experts sound off

Electric Cars

Water pumping approvals. Bats in trees. An empty tank. These are just a few things that have stopped Tesla’s progress in Germany as it attempts to launch its first electric vehicle manufacturing facility in Europe. It has been a long and trying road for the electric automaker, which has attempted to surf through the waves of German bureaucratic red tape since early 2020. After another delay in the approval process, which has expected production start dates ranging across three quarters, industry experts challenge Germany’s reputation as a place for companies to conduct business.

“Tesla shows the world how we stand in our own way,” Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, Director of the Center of Automotive Research, said. While Dudenhöffer does agree that Tesla should have treaded more carefully during the approval of a battery production facility and been smarter regarding document submissions, the industry expert believes that German red tape has mainly told a story of how hard it is to get things started if you are planning to open a business in the country. “But such hurricanes of resistance show how little sustainable Germany is,” he said in an interview with Handelsblatt.

Coverage of the Gigafactory Berlin project has spanned over two years for journalists in the sector, including myself. Musk announced that Tesla would bring a production facility to Germany in late 2019 while accepting an automotive industry reward. The project began just months later, in the early days of January 2020. More than two years later, a factory, a parage, a carnival, and a lot of speculation regarding when Tesla will finally receive the green light still exist. Earlier this week, German media reported that Tesla would likely not receive permission to begin production and deliveries until mid-March “at the earliest.” It is a far cry from the Summer 2021 start dates that many close to the project anticipated.

The delays are starting to worry those who see Germany as a potential leader in the future automotive industry, which over the past ten years has changed more than it did in the previous ninety. Car companies are not just about making cars anymore. They’re relatively closer to tech companies than anything due to the advancements in software and the widespread focus on developing autonomous driving platforms. Regardless of what a company brings to the table, they will likely have to encounter some major pushback and delays in their project. Even EV leader Tesla is having problems. Dudenhöffer wonders which companies are observing the red tape and the pushback, thinking that other options may be better.

Giga Berlin’s new graffiti panels as of early February 2022. (Credit: @Gf4Tesla/Twitter)

It isn’t just companies, either. Dudenhöffer says that the renewal of motorway bridges can take years or even decades to be rebuilt completely due to new approval procedures. It is not about getting things done quickly, it seems.

When things as simple as bridge repairs are taking over ten years to complete, there has to be an indication that the processes for planning and approval need to be revised. That is what Chief Executive Holder Loesch said, who encouraged the agencies responsible for approving projects to take a look at refining the approval steps. Loesch, whose association is overseeing the installation of wind turbines and industrial plants to double by 2030, says that his plans will include the submission of around 20,000 permits during the course of action. “This mammoth task can only be mastered with a comprehensive reform of planning and approvals that includes processes for industrial plant structures,” he said.

Even Brandenburg Economics Minister Jörg Steinbach submitted ideas to help expedite potential approvals. Driven by the lagging approval process in the Tesla project, Steinbach said that “It should be possible to make changes to the building plan in the ongoing approval process without the process having to be completely restarted.”

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Tesla factory delays show ‘how we stand in our own way’: German industry experts sound off

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