Why does Elon Musk eat so fast

If you look at Germany's currently most spectacular construction site from the perspective of smooth snakes and sand lizards, you could say: things are progressing. "New living space" is written on a small sign that delimits an area several football fields. In it the birds chirp on the spruce trees, numerous piles of stones have been built and dead wood has been piled up. They are the new home for all the animals that had to make way for Tesla's fourth gigafactory. More than a year ago, with the first groundbreaking, they were relocated. "A new habitat has emerged here," says the sign.

A few meters to the west, where lizards, snakes and ant colonies have been driven away, a lot of busy noise can be heard: the loud squeaking of construction vehicles when they drive backwards, of excavators digging pits, of caterpillars doing bulldozing. Instead of several hundred hectares of spruce forest, there are now rather repellent-looking factory buildings, roads have been laid, one of which was named after Tesla. The Americans want to build 500,000 cars here once a year, and it would hardly be surprising if the first examples rolled out of one of the halls at this very moment. A lot looks so finished here.

Elon Musk's ambition was not only to get his factory in Grünheide, Brandenburg, out of the ground faster than other comparable projects in Germany. He even wanted to be faster than himself - at least faster than building the gigafactory in Shanghai. After only one and a half years of construction time, cars were to be manufactured here in Grünheide as early as July. There can be no more talk of that. In the annual report, the Americans write that the company plans to start production "late in 2021". In the world of Elon Musk, it must feel like an emergency stop at top speed.

Tesla now also wants to produce batteries

In addition to cars, Tesla now also wants to produce batteries on the site on the Berlin motorway ring. The company has already announced that it will expand the previous building application to the Brandenburg State Environment Agency. "The exact scope of the planned changes" is "not yet known" to the authority, according to the Ministry of the Environment. As early as the spring, rumors were circulating that the Americans also wanted to build a battery factory with 1,000 employees in Brandenburg. Up to 250 gigawatt hours should therefore be packed in batteries here.

In any case, the new factory will have a significant impact on the entire Tesla project in Grünheide. "It can be assumed, however, that as a result of these changes a renewed participation of the public will be necessary," the Ministry of the Environment continued. The new building application would then have to be publicly displayed again for several weeks. Should a further hearing of the citizens be necessary, even the target date for the end of 2021 will be difficult to keep.

The Greens, who also provide the environment minister in Brandenburg, fundamentally support the Tesla project. But "with such a large construction site there is also a queasy feeling," says the state chairman of the Greens, Alexandra Pichl. "Above all, environmental protection and occupational health and safety must be monitored very closely." The environmental protection association Nabu goes one step further. For a long time they have been calling for the documents to be re-interpreted, says managing director Christiane Schröder. "This procedure urgently needs more transparency."

Elon Musk's ambition to be the fastest could fall on his feet. Since the construction of the factory has not yet been approved in its entirety, the company works with special permits; there have been twelve so far. That was enough to complete almost two thirds of the car factory. But you do it at your own risk. In the more theoretical case that the factory would ultimately not be approved, Tesla would have to demolish the building and restore the site to its original state.

Customs and the State Office for Occupational Safety and Health investigate on the construction site

However, the numerous exemptions granted to the US company and constant changes to the construction plans make observers of the project increasingly suspicious. In particular, the question of how the immense water demand in production is to be met has still not been fully answered. So it was no wonder that the first public hearing last autumn lasted twice as long as planned. Since then, the State Office for the Environment has been busy processing the 414 objections and applications from citizens about the Tesla project.

On this Tuesday it was also announced that customs and the State Office for Occupational Safety and Health are investigating the construction site. It concerns allegations of wage dumping and questionable working conditions. These claims could not be confirmed any more than the allegation that Tesla had laid sewer pipes for several months without permits. However, they show that the construction of Tesla's gigafactory will no longer go on as silently as before.

But even if Tesla couldn't start production until the summer of 2022, a Elon Musk would certainly be a record. Probably nobody in Germany has built a factory of this size so quickly.