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‘Danke Deutschland!’ Elon Musk hands over first ‘made in Germany’ Teslas

Tesla CEO Elon Musk danced for joy at the inauguration of his "gigafactory" electric car plant near Berlin Tuesday, shrugging off two years of bureaucracy and delays to watch customers drive off with the first Model Y vehicles made in Europe.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, attend the opening of the Tesla factory in Berlin Brandenburg.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, attend the opening of the Tesla factory in Berlin Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild POOL | Patrick Pleul

“Danke Deutschland!” (Thank you, Germany) Musk tweeted after the red ribbon ceremony, where he joined workers in applauding the first 30 drivers to get behind the wheel of their new cars.

The US billionaire even broke into a little dance during the handovers, reviving memories of the slightly awkward jig he did at a launch event in Shanghai in 2020 that lit up the internet.

The factory opening caps an arduous two-year approval and construction process that saw Tesla run into a series of administrative and legal hurdles, including complaints from locals about the site’s environmental impact.

READ ALSO: Tesla gets final approval for ‘Gigafactory’ near Berlin

Having started construction at its own risk, Tesla finally won the formal go-ahead from regional authorities to begin production earlier this month.

The “gigafactory” in Grünheide, in Germany’s eastern state of Brandenburg, is Tesla’s first production site in Europe, and officials are hoping it will
help the region position itself as a hub for electric vehicle production.

The Californian company aims to eventually employ some 12,000 workers at the site who will churn out around 500,000 Model Y cars annually, the firm’s all-electric, compact SUVs.

Tesla’s arrival is expected to jolt Germany’s flagship car industry, setting the stage for fierce competition with rivals Volkswagen, BMW and
Mercedes-Benz as they pivot from traditional engines to cleaner electric vehicles.

“The new era in the auto industry has now arrived in Germany too,” said analyst Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer from the Center for Automotive Research.

Away from Russian oil

Tesla’s focus on Europe comes as the continent grapples with sky-high energy costs that have sent petrol prices soaring, prompting some drivers to
take a closer look at electric alternatives.

The “Giga Berlin-Brandenburg” is “one of the biggest strategic endeavours for Tesla over the last decade and should further vault its market share within Europe over the coming years as more consumers aggressively head down the EV path,” analysts at investment firm Wedbush said.

But Tesla has not been spared the pain from shortages of key materials and supply chain disruptions, linked in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that are also plaguing other carmakers.

Musk tweeted last week that the company was seeing “significant recent inflation pressure” in raw materials and logistics.

Tesla boss Elon Musk at the Gigafactory opening on Tuesday.

Tesla boss Elon Musk at the Gigafactory opening on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild POOL | Patrick Pleul

‘Special day’

Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who attended Tuesday’s inauguration along with Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said it was “a special day for Germany’s mobility transformation”.

In a nod to efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy, Habeck said electric cars took Germany “one step further away from oil imports”.

He also called for more “Tesla speed” in other infrastructure projects, including the expansion of renewable energies.

Although Musk was frequently frustrated by the red tape that slowed down his Gruenheide plans, by German standards the factory was up and running in record time.

The inauguration was not universally welcomed, however, with environmental campaigners protesting near the site.

Among their demands was a call for better and free public transport instead of “yet more cars”, said spokeswoman Lou Winters from the Sand in the Gears environmental group.

By Florian CAZERES

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TECH

EXPLAINED: How Germany is trying to tackle its slow internet problem

German internet is known for being blighted by dead zones and slow download speeds, but the government is hoping a new law will help bring the country into the 21st century. Here's how.

EXPLAINED: How Germany is trying to tackle its slow internet problem

What’s going on?

It’s no secret that internet in Germany isn’t quite up to scratch. In fact, it is often one of the first things foreigners notice after moving to the country.

Most people expect Europe’s largest economy to also be a digital powerhouse, but time and time again the country ends up near the bottom of the ranking list in terms of its internet download speeds and latency. 

In 2017, Germany came 25th in a ranking of average internet speeds and had slipped further down the list to 38th place by 2021. Though speeds have been gradually improving over the past few years, the latest survey put Germany behind at least 18 other European countries in terms of its internet speed, including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Hungary, France and Romania. 

To try and tackle the problem, the traffic light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) have drafted a bill that would give everyone in the country the right to fast broadband. 

It was agreed on by the cabinet on Wednesday and will be put to parliament over the coming weeks or months. 

READ ALSO: ‘We’re running late on this’: Deutsche Bahn promises better Wifi on German trains by 2026

OK. How fast is fast? 

Not insanely fast, unfortunately.

According to the draft, fixed-network internet connections everywhere in Germany must in future provide at least 10 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for downloads and 1.7 megabits per second for uploads to their customers. 

This seems particularly low in light of the fact that Germany was recorded as having average download speeds of around 41 Mbit/s back in 2020. Though this looked bad in comparison to somewhere like the Netherlands, where 70 Mbit/s was the average speed, it does make the 10 Mbit/s target seem a bit under-ambitious.

It’s worth remembering though that this an absolute minimum standard – so most houses should expect something far above the 10 Mbit/s. And this kind of speed is generally good enough for relatively fast HD streaming and excellent internet browsing. 

In addition to the minimum download and upload speeds, the government says the latency (reaction time) should also be no more than 150 milliseconds.

Why are they aiming so low? 

According to Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP), the minimum requirements are intended to ensure “the digital participation” of all those “who have so far been cut off from coverage”.

In other words, the government is more concerned with bringing basic broadband to people in more remote areas than making Wifi speeds insanely fast for everyone else. 

Wissing also mentioned that the minimum standards would be redefined year by year. This will take into account the development of internet use in Germany, which changes over the years due to network expansion and new tariffs, he said.

READ ALSO: More than half of Germans regularly experience bad mobile coverage

What are people saying?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the opposition conservatives aren’t particularly impressed with the draft. 

Describing the targets as “unambitious”, digital policy spokesman Reinhard Brandl (CDU) said people’s modern internet usage habits were already being ignored.

“We have considerable doubts as to whether a 10-megabit download rate and a 1.7-megabit upload rate per connection are sufficient as a basic service for a family with children,” Brandl said. 

Rheinhard Brandl (CDU)

Reinhard Brandl (CDU) speaks in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

When will the changes come into force?

Originally, the ordinance was due to come into effect on June 1st – but the bill still needs to get the approval from the Bundestag and Bundesrat before it can become law. 

For that reason, the Transport Ministry is now expecting to miss the June deadline and could introduce the rules later in summer or autumn instead. 

What will it mean when the law changes?

For the first time, it will mean that people in Germany have a legal right to certain broadband speeds. This gives them grounds for complaining to network providers if they aren’t getting the minimum speed. 

It could also give the Federal Network Agency a push to speed up the roll-out of infrastructure that can improve broadband speeds. In some cases, it could arrange for new cables to be laid. 

READ ALSO: German mobile networks improve coverage in signal ‘dead zones’

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