07/02/2022

Did Elon Musk Forget About Buffalo?

Tesla has presented the Buffalo operation as a sort of sequel to the Gigafactory, the company’s enormous battery plant near Reno, Nev. But where that factory employs more than 7,000 people and has helped Musk transform Tesla into a major automotive manufacturer, large portions of Gigafactory 2, as this place is known, resemble an empty Walmart Supercenter. Tesla was supposed to be operating multiple production lines by now. Only one is set up, and it’s not yet fully automated. A mess of wooden crates filled with unused manufacturing equipment sits nearby.

The factory had been developed for another company, SolarCity, which Tesla bought in 2016 in a $2.6 billion deal. At the time, SolarCity was the country’s dominant installer of rooftop solar panels, and Musk called the purchase a “no-brainer,” arguing that the two companies were complementary. Critics pointed out that SolarCity had $2.9 billion in debt, and that Musk, as the chairman and largest shareholder in both companies, had serious potential conflicts of interest. (Musk recused himself from the board votes.) On top of the debt, Tesla inherited an agreement SolarCity had struck with New York state, which required it to spend $5 billion in the area over the course of a decade, in addition to meeting hiring targets.

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