May 26 2014, 2:02pm CDT | by Forbes
Earlier this year, Tesla Motors said four states were finalists for its $5 billion gigafactory. They were Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. Since then, California has been trying to nudge its way onto the list, with a bid that even Tesla describes as a long shot.
Now, some details of California’s effort are coming to light. The Sacramento Bee reported last week that the Mather Airport business park in Sacramento is making its case as a location for the gigafactory.
The company is expected to break ground in June on the first of two gigafactory sites, with another ground breaking elsewhere shortly afterwards. Tesla is holding a “bake off” between two states to see which one can get pre-production work completed the fastest.
The gigafactory would build about 500,000 lithium-ion batteries a year by 2020. That’s more than the number of lithium-ion batteries produced by all the automotive suppliers in the world last year. The project is expected to create about 6,500 jobs.
According to the paper, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office of business and economic development contacted Sacramento officials about Mather. Tesla has been made aware of site’s attributes, said Rob Leonard, chief deputy county executive in Sacramento County. Tesla needs about 500 acres, and the Mather Airport site is plenty big enough.
Mather, which is run by the county, was U.S. Air Force base until 1993, when it was converted into a cargo airport and business park since the Air Force left in 1993. Its various businesses employ an estimated 5,000 workers, compared with 7,500 people working at Mather when the base closure was announced in 1988.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month that California is “sort of improbable” as the initial gigafactory site, because it must catch up with the other states under contention. The company wants permits to be approved by the time of the ground breaking, often a lengthy procedure in California because of environmental regulations.
“One month – that’s a pretty big mountain to climb,” Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, whose district includes Mather, told the Bee last week. But he added, “Nothing’s impossible.”
“All four states are still in the running, because of their eagerness and capability,” Simon Sproule, Tesla’s vice president of communications and marketing, told Forbes in early May.
California has one big advantage over the other states vying for the factory. Tesla is now its largest automotive employer, ahead of Toyota Motor, which has had operations in the state for five decades.
According to Bloomberg, Tesla employs 6,000 people in California, and is expected to add another 500 by the end of the year. That compares with 5,300 employed by Toyota, and that figure will fall when the company moves many of its headquarters jobs to Plano, Texas.
If it lands the gigafactory, California could double its Tesla employment. Its growth there has been swift.
Since early 2013, Tesla has added more than 3,000 employees to boost Model S production in Fremont, and prepare to make Model X electric sport-utility vehicles, Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president for business development, told Bloomberg.
“It’s poorly understood how much Tesla has invested in the state of California,” O’Connell told the news service, and “how much it’s added in just the past 18 months.”
Tesla is the last major manufacturer building vehicles in California, where General Motors and Ford once had assembly plants. Fremont, in fact, was previously the home of the GM-Toyota joint venture, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, which ended shortly after GM filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.
Tesla officials haven’t said when they’ll announce the first gigafactory site, but all four states remain in the running. Nevada is believed by many experts to have an edge on the other three original states, due to its proximity to Tesla’s main base of operations. But it’s anyone’s guess who will get the second location, and California is not giving up./>/>
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