German family gets into gear for Tesla Gigafactory | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 22.11.2019
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German family gets into gear for Tesla Gigafactory

Elon Musk's decision to build his European Gigafactory in Germany outside of Berlin has seen local authorities making big plans. One family on the ground that owns a Tesla car shares their thoughts about the project.

Grünheide is a picturesque community of some 8,500 inhabitants about 40 kilometers (25 miles) southeast of Berlin. It's here that Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk wants to build his European Gigafactory to produce batteries and cars as of 2021.

The area boasts sprawling forests, 10 lakes, two rivers — and just one public Tesla "Destination Charger," hidden away on the backside of a gas station.

Not that Peer Heineken needs this charging station, though. The 46-year-old proud owner of a Tesla Model 3 has his own private charging unit where he lives in Kagel, which is part of the Grünheide community. The IT specialist, who's involved in HR document process optimization for large companies, moved to this place from downtown Berlin seven years ago "to enable my kids to grow up in a picturesque and cozy environment," Peer tells DW.

"As an IT specialist, I can do a lot of work without traveling too much, and if I need to travel, the new Berlin-Brandenburg Airport (BER) will be just a half-hour drive away," he told himself back then. The airport is still not open because of a string of delays, but is now slated to be finally inaugurated in the fall of next year.

Tesla charging station in Grünheide

Grünheide's Destination Charging network consists of, well, just one unit on the outskirts of the sprawling community

Musk is omnipresent

Peer says that in his family, Elon Musk and his numerous undertakings including Tesla had been a regular topic over dinner long before the news broke last week that a Gigafactory would be built where they live. Especially his older son, Silas, has taken a keen interest in Musk's innovation drive.

"Silas is a huge fan of Musk; he even took the trouble to listen to a 17-hour biography [compiled by Ashlee Vance].

"I'm fascinated by Musk's numerous technologic endeavors and his coming across as very energetic and young," 13-year-old Silas tells DW. "While he's superrich and a tough businessman, he's still got a very humorous way of communicating and dealing with things."

For the family, the planned Gigafactory almost literally in their backyard has provided fresh impetus for discussions.

"On the one hand, the plant will bring a much-desired innovation push and technology boost to our area," Peer argues. "On the other side, a forest area will have to be razed to the ground for the factory, and it's unclear whether this idyllic community of ours can remain so idyllic when 10,000 people are to commute here daily and an estimated additional 1,000 to 2,000 people will settle down in Grünheide."

"Our roads are already clogged and regional traffic is taxed to the limit, so the Gigafactory [where some 8,000 people are expected to be employed eventually] may turn out to be a blessing and a curse at the same time," he warns.

Silas Heineken recharging a Mode 3 at home

Silas Heineken is recharging the family's Model 3 at home

E-mobility push

Peer's son, Silas, looks on the bright side of things. "I'm deeply convinced that the factory will trigger a rapid buildup of required infrastructure in our region, including of course a considerable expansion of charging stations for electric vehicles," he hopes. "Germany in general needs a much larger e-mobility drive, and Tesla can certainly help."

His father reasons that much will depend on whether local authorities are willing to go the extra mile and attempt to turn the region into a showcase for photovoltaic installations, superfast internet connections, efficient regional transportation and attractive leisure time activities.

No matter what happens on the ground, the family's love for Tesla cars will remain intact. Their own charging station is fed by a PV plant on the rooftop supported by two Tesla Powerwall batteries.

"When I bought our Model 3, it was kind of combining irrationality with reason," Peer recalls. "I wanted to drive a sleek and stylish car, but also one with an electric powertrain — a car that I'd be able to drive and recharge at home without any CO2 footprint, and from today's perspective, it was a very good decision indeed."

Brandenburg community of Grünheide

Grünheide near Berlin is a tranquil place, but can it stay so now that the Gigafactory is coming?

"And don't forget the fun you have while traveling in such a car," Silas adds. "It's the best car we've ever had and the best I've ever traveled with in general."

But this is not where his love for Tesla stops. Silas tells DW he's seriously considering applying for an apprenticeship and job at the Gigafactory. "If I get a chance, I could try it out and maybe even spend my whole working life there, if that enables me to become financially independent."

"I've also triggered a sort of teslamania among my friends," Silas says with a smile on his face. "We've been having lots of fun figuring what exactly we'd like to do in the Gigafactory."

Right now, nobody knows how the plant will impact community life. And nobody knows how it will impact German auto manufacturers. "It's definitely a challenge for German carmakers," Peer notes.

"By building the Gigafactory here in Germany, Elon Musk certainly pursues a strategy; after all, many important suppliers are still based in the country. But it's also a bit like throwing down the gauntlet to the likes of BMW and Mercedes – it'll hopefully be a wake-up call for them to invest more in e-mobility."

Watch video 02:14

Grünheide hopes for Tesla

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