Tesla opened its sprawling Gigafactory to members of the press on Tuesday for an exclusive tour, as well as a chat with CEO Elon Musk. Reporters got a sneak peek at the factory’s progress, now two years in construction, just two days before the facility’s official grand opening party on July 29. The factory, just outside Reno, Nevada, is around 14 percent complete, with some sections already bustling with robotic assembly machines. Once the plant is up and running at full capacity, Musk says it will cut the cost of the lithium-based car batteries by 30 percent.
Construction on the massive battery factory is ongoing with an ambitious goal to reach completion by 2020. Then, the Gigafactory is expected to wind up being the largest building in the world at a whopping 5.8 million square feet. Part of the factory, called Section A, is already operational; giant robotic arms are taking battery cells manufactured at one of Tesla’s other facilities and assembling them into battery packs for the company’s electric cars. Reporters on the tour noted that Sections D and E will soon have floors poured, suggesting that things are moving right along. The factory’s current output isn’t clear, but once the entire plant is up and running with two or three floors of robotics, it is projected to nearly double the world’s production of lithium-based batteries.
According to Katie Fehrenbacher with Fortune, even though construction will be continuing, the factory is scheduled to start churning out batteries later this year. Construction is a full two-years ahead of schedule and will start pumping out 100 gW of battery cells by 2020. That’s enough batteries to fuel 1.2 million model S sedan, which is important because the company has a goal of 500,000 a year by 2018, which this output will help accomplish. Elon Musk described the factory as “a product” that deserves as much, or more, attention than the product it makes.
The Gigafactory is a $5 billion project and Panasonic, the Japan-based electronics company that already makes Tesla’s battery cells, invested $2 billion to make it happen. Reporters on the tour weren’t allowed to see or photograph any of that company’s equipment, though. It, like much of the other equipment already installed inside the factory, is still something of a secret.
During the event, Musk talked about the Gigafactory’s progress, as well as his broader vision for the future of the company. The entrepreneur is known far and wide for his ambitious goals and wild ideas. With his hands on the wheel of the world’s most successful private space exploration company SpaceX and Tesla’s recent offer to purchase SolarCity, in addition to pushing Tesla forward into battery country, it’s a wonder the man has any time left to come up with new ideas. But he does.
“I believe we are on track to meet the half million by 2018,” Musk told reporters during a Q&A session, when asked about Tesla’s ramped-up car production goals. The company had originally planned to hit the half million mark by 2020, but recently accelerated the already ambitious goal by two years. In an effort to hit that target, the Gigafactory will eventually employ up to 10,000 people, which is 4,000 more than initially estimated.
For those of us not lucky enough to visit the Gigafactory in person, journalists from Fortune put together a video with a rare glimpse inside the enormous plant, which can be viewed here. For more pics and info check out the in-depth report at Fortune. Wired also has a sneak peak, which you can see here.
Images via Tesla Motors