TWENTY MILES EAST of Sparks, Nevada, a factory is rising from the red dirt of the high desert. It doesn't look like much—a few completed structures amid exposed steel girders—but this building, dubbed the Gigafactory, is the key to Elon Musk's sweeping plan to remake transportation.
The Gigafactory is where Tesla Motors will build the batteries that power its electric vehicles. The company has long imported batteries from Asia, but if it is to meet its CEO's goal of producing 500,000 cars a year, it must build those batteries here. There's simply no other way to meet its own demand, because the company expects to use more batteries in 2020 than were produced worldwide in 2013.
"The factory is the machine that builds the machine," Musk says, sitting in the lobby of his new building.
When finished, the Gigafactory will cover 5.8 million square feet. Musk, never given to understatement, promises it will be beautiful. Plans call for a jewel-shaped building topped by a roof glittering with solar panels.
Crews broke ground in June, 2014, and Musk says EV batteries will start coming off the assembly line next year. That seems optimistic, given that just 14 percent of the factory is finished, but 1,000 people are working seven days a week to hit that deadline.
Those crews work among the Tesla employees already building Powerall and Powerpack home and industrial energy storage units using cells built at Tesla's factory in Fremont, California. (The company plans to start producing cells, which are combined to form the big packs in cars, at the Gigafactory.)
Robots will do much of the work in a factory with shiny grey floors and white walls with red trim. Huge red X-shaped braces secure the walls, providing a measure of seismic security. Engineers work at desks not far from the production line, so they can keep a close eye on the machine that will make the machine. A sign taped up in the break room reads "Reno Supercharger," a reference to the company's EV quick-charge stations.
The factory will be heavily automated, but machines can't do everything, so the factory also will employ some 6,500 people when it hits full production.