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Tesla opens first European plant on road to 500,000 car target

Tesla Motors, the US maker of electric cars, has opened its first factory in Europe in an attempt to ramp up sales in the continent and realise its goal of producing half a million cars a year globally by 2020.

in Financial Times, by Michael Stothard in Tilburg, 25-09-2015

The lossmaking group, which delivered 35,000 cars last year, says it will now assemble its Model S sedan (above) in the new factory in Tilburg, in the Netherlands, which will “help European customers get cars faster”.

The plant is the first fully-fledged Tesla factory outside its home market. It was built using old factory parts from the company’s main factory in Fremont, California. The plant will produce about 450 cars a week, with capacity for about 1,000 a week.

Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive of the group, said that the plant has “a lot of room for growth and expansion”, adding that the company was likely to look for new sites in Europe, “probably at the beginning of next year.”

Analysts estimate that more than half of Tesla sales come from the US, about 30 per cent in Europe and just above 10 per cent from China, although they see China as the biggest potential market.

The company, which previously used the Tilburg site to reassemble cars made in California, has so far made only limited inroads into the key European markets of Germany, France and Spain. Its main successes so far have come in the Nordic region, particularly in Norway, which is estimated to be 13 per cent of sales.

Tesla is also facing the threat of increased competition in Europe from local companies, which are investing more in electric cars as the number of charging stations increases.

At the Frankfurt motor show this month Audi, Porsche and BMW all promised a range of upgraded electric options.

Mr Musk said that he welcomed having other carmakers in the market, and predicted that Volkswagen, which this week lost its chief executive after revelations that it cheated on US emissions tests, would also become a major participant.

He said he believed VW would decide the “path to redemption” would be for them to go “full tilt” on producing electric cars.

The plant opening in the Netherlands comes as Tesla also attempts to switch from being a pure luxury company to a seller of mass-market electric cars. The company is seeking to sell 500,000 cars a year by 2020.

Tesla is later this year expected to release its next generation Model X, a sport utility vehicle with “falcon-wing” doors and an expected starting price of $90,000.

Its mass-market offering, called the Model 3, which will sell for about $35,000, is not due to go on sale in the US for another three years, with sales in Europe starting soon after.

The Tilburg factory, where cars are pulled around a sparkling white floor on futuristic magnetic strips, features a 750m indoor test track.

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