For most car companies, a construction delay is an annoyance.
But for Tesla Motors Inc., which is betting the company on a $5 billion “gigafactory” for lithium ion batteries in Nevada, it’s an existential fear.
Tesla needs a steady supply of cheap batteries to launch the mass-market Model 3, which will be the make-or-break moment for Tesla CEO Elon Musk in his quest to take electric cars mainstream.
So it’s eminently clear why the Palo Alto, Calif., automaker is pushing back hard against a news report suggesting that Tesla is running behind schedule at its construction site on the outskirts of Reno, Nev.
“Construction is on schedule, and the gigafactory is on schedule to open,” Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson told Automotive News. “No delays in construction.”
In an article Friday, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported that the project had been delayed, pointing to a job listing from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union saying the project had been cut back by 80 percent.
It remains unclear clear why Tesla’s demand for IBEW workers has declined. No one may know outside of Tesla, which has taken the unusual step of serving as project manager for the gigafactory instead of hiring an outside firm. It’s possible the company entered a phase of construction that required fewer workers, or steered some of its jobs to a different contractor.
Tesla insists the gigafactory will start producing batteries in 2016, as planned, and the board seems happy enough with its progress.
In photos posted on Facebook and Instagram earlier this week by board members Steve Jurvetson and Kimbal Musk, who is Elon’s brother, the board members can be seen smiling broadly while standing on the roof of the factory. (The photos were discovered by users of Tesla Motors Club, a message board.)
For the sake of the Model 3 and the future of the company, Tesla had little choice: It needs to keep construction on track and the board smiling.