Gigafactory to Reno? Tesla Says Ball Is in Nevada’s Court

on August 01, 2014 at 1:49 PM

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It’s not quite full-steam ahead on a Reno “Gigafactory” for Tesla – but the electric car company did confirm that it has pushed around a lot of Nevada dirt, while also keeping its options open in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

This revelation came in the company’s second quarter 2014 shareholder letter [PDF], issued yesterday, in which Tesla also announced earnings of $0.11 per share, beating a consensus forecast of $0.04, on revenue of $858 million. Tesla said it delivered 7,579 Model S sedans in the second quarter, pushing 2014 deliveries to 14,036.

Tesla said it continues to expect Model S deliveries to land at 35,000 for 2014, which means 21,000 vehicles will have to be built, sold and dispatched in the second half of the year. The company’s Fremont, California, plant is on pause for around two weeks to gear up to boost Model S production, and also to prepare to build the Model X, the crossover utility vehicle that will join the Tesla line next spring.

“We anticipate having operational Alpha prototypes ready by next week in order to confirm design intent and Beta prototypes to be ready later this year,” Tesla said of the Model X.

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By the end of 2015, Tesla said it expects to be humming along at an annualized delivery rate of better than 100,000 units, “roughly split” between Model S and X, Chairman and CEO Elon Musk said in an earnings call with analysts.

The Gigafactory is aimed for when that rate climbs above 200,000, Musk said, with a production start of 2017 envisioned. Much ink has been spilled in speculating where the giant battery factory, covering perhaps 1,000 acres and with 6,500 employees by 2020, might land. You would think that having “essentially completed the construction pad” in Reno means Reno is it, done deal. But Tesla is keeping other options alive.

“We’re going to be doing something similar in or two other states,” Musk said. “It makes sense to have multiple things going in parallel. Before we go into the next stage of pouring a lot of concrete we want to make sure we have things sorted out at the state level.”

That’s a reference to the incentive packages that states are wooing Tesla with. Musk insisted Tesla wasn’t trying to extract every last drop from the eventual winner, but did remark that “on the Nevada site, at this point the ball is in the court of the governor and the state legislature.”

And Musk suggested, in a roundabout way, what Tesla expects from the state where it plants its battery flag.

Here’s how that unfolded: Tesla used the shareholder letter to say Panasonic was now formally onboard as a Gigafactory partner. “Panasonic will invest in production equipment that it will use to manufacture and supply Tesla with battery cells,” Tesla said in the letter. “Tesla will prepare and provide the land, buildings and utilities for the Gigafactory, invest in production equipment for battery module and pack production, and be responsible for the overall management of the Gigafactory.”

Then in the earnings call, Musk said it will cost around $4 billion to build and get production rolling at the Gigafactory “before high volume” is reached” and “probably closer to $5 billion by 2020.” He said he sees Tesla providing “probably 40 to 50 percent of the total, Panasonic probably about 30 to 40 percent, the states maybe 10 percent and other industrial partners maybe 10 to 15 percent depending on how vertical we go with the factory.”

So there you go, Nevada legislature and governor: 10 percent of between $4 billion and $5 billion. Does $400 million in incentives (at least) sound like a winning number for your state?

For Tesla, even with partners playing a big role its own investment would remain huge, especially for such a young and relatively small company. But Musk & Co. believe the Gigafactory is the key to the future, yielding efficiencies that will drive down battery costs by 30 percent and thus narrow the price gap between electrics and gasoline-powered cars.