By on April 6, 2016

Elon Musk

Tesla founder Elon Musk wants to build a new European factory to satisfy growing demand on the continent, and France knows just the place he should do it.

French Energy Minister Segolene Royal reportedly pitched the idea of using the site of a soon-to-be-mothballed reactor to Musk, according to Reuters (via Automotive News Europe).

“He didn’t say no,” said Royal, who plans to follow-up the pitch by meeting with Tesla management.

The Fessenheim nuclear plant, one of France’s oldest, is located in the Alsace region near the German border. French president Francois Hollande has promised to close it by the end of the year, amid outcry from union leaders and select politicos.

The location would be centralized and appealing to Musk — in fact, it’s a region’s he’s idly speculated about in the past.

It’s well known that Musk wants another production facility in Europe to bolster the plant opened in Tillburg, Netherlands in 2013. With Model 3 orders possibly topping 300,000 in its first week, production will need to be boosted in a big way.

In an April 3 Twitter AMA, Musk reiterated the need for more European capacity in order to satisfy long-term regional demand.

Model 3 production is expected to start in late 2017 at Tesla’s Fremont, California facility. Decommissioning a nuclear plant is not something that happens overnight, but once the nuclear fuel is removed and the site decontaminated, the space would be ideal.

Competing timelines will determine whether that idea gets off the ground.

Musk likes the electricity entering his facilities to be as green as possible, and France’s power grid fits the bill, with plenty of nuclear, hydro and wind generation in the mix. France is also a big buyer of electric vehicles, with its government handing out generous subsidies to EV drivers.

Hydro-rich Norway, which loves its Teslas, seems like an obvious possibility, but there’s more than just space and electricity to factor in when setting up shop. The France-Germany border area has a multitude of rail lines and a modern highway network that would provide quick access to many markets.

At the end of the day, Musk will do whatever he damn well pleases, but it must be nice having other countries pass you notes in class.

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36 Comments on “France Begins Process of Wooing Elon Musk...”


  • avatar

    Tesla needs more Gigafactories and more Model 3 production facilities.

    Whatever’s it takes to get my shares to $300 so I can sell.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    It’s an interesting idea and could offer a lot of floor space but I have to question one thing:

    What about residual radiation from the long-term use as a nuclear facility? No matter how safely it may have operated, what will France do to ensure it is a safe environment for automotive production?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Radiation is pretty darn easy to detect. If they can’t clean up the plant sufficiently, nobody’s going to be moving in.

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      There’s no residual radiation. France, unlike the US, recycles and re-uses their radioactive elements in fast breeder reactors so the over-all unused amount is much much lower than in the US, where we let it sit there doing nothing. Also, nuclear plants are heavily monitored at all times as are all employees, they would know if there were a reactor leak immediately.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Wasn’t talking about reactor leaks, nickoo. The plant uses and stores fuel rods, usually in pools of “heavy water” not even considering the simple fact that the plant has been operating for some 40 years (maybe less) where those rods would be exposed to the ‘open air’ for a short period every time they’re changed out–typically dozens of rods one at a time over a short period during the refueling process. That radiation gets trapped in the concrete shield walls and depending on how much there was, the concrete itself becomes irradiated and will take a certain amount of time to lose that radiation. That radiation may be minimal, but if you recall there was a movie shot in a retired US power plant where they still had to monitor exposure during the filming of the movie. (Was an underwater alien movie like “The Deep” or something.)

        So no, I’m not talking something as extreme as a leak of some sort, just the ‘charge’ that builds up over long exposure to low levels of radiation.

        • 0 avatar
          nickoo

          France doesnt store their nuclear rods like they do in the US. They ship the spent rods to a central facility and recycle and reuse them.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            “France doesnt store their nuclear rods like they do in the US. They ship the spent rods to a central facility and recycle and reuse them.”

            I suggest you do some more reading then, because one of the statements in the article clearly mentioned stored rods that have to be moved.

          • 0 avatar
            nickoo

            Vulpine. Then the article is wrong. The French do in fact ship the rods off to a central facility to recycle and reuse them in fast breeder reactors. They are not indefinitely stored onsite. The waste that cant be recycled is encapsulated and stored in a single, safe, location.

            I can find hundreds of news articles stating as such just by a google search. When I was earning my degree in Physics, I even wrote a lengthy proposal for recycling and reusing nuclear rods in the US, which has been foolishly banned since 1977, the French model was largely what I based my proposal on.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            That’s nice to know, Nickoo. And why didn’t you submit your paper to the EPA, NRC and any other agency that might have had some say on the matter?

            I would note one thing though… In the name of “reducing government costs” anything that would cost more up front, no matter the savings down the road, was and is getting opposed by certain parties in Congress and as a result costs us even more. Just like corporate business. They pinch pennies so hard the dollars flow down the drain.

          • 0 avatar
            nickoo

            http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-wastes/appendices/radioactive-waste-management-appendix-3-national-p.aspx

          • 0 avatar
            nickoo

            Vulpine. Sorry. But you are wrong and the article doesnt state squat about onsite storage. I literally just made a phone call to my former co-worker who works at Sandia now. Fessenheim only temporarily stores low level radium and high level onsite until it can be transported to a permanent storage facility or reprocessed. It is not a permenent storage facility.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Aw, so what if there’s residual radiation? Your model 3 will glow in the dark, making it easier to find on the lot.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Seriously this was supposed to be April Fools, right?

    FESSENHEIM NUCLEAR FACILITY

    Central location but still off the beaten path! Plenty of space in near move in condition* once the current tenant’s lease expires in 2017**. Tritium contamination negligible! Reasonable offers considered!

    *migration of spent fuel rods into dry casks expected to go on until 2022.
    **current tenant still operating two pressurized water reactors.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      All true, bro.

      But this is nothing. The UAE is trying to woo Musk with “desert solar farms” and a hollowed out and thoroughly modernized volcano with precision manufacturing equipment and 500 football fields worth of floor space near Norway with direct hydro & geothermal clean energy loops (and sharks with laser beam headbands).

      • 0 avatar
        porschespeed

        Ahh, yes. I remember when governments were courting Shai Agassi and his ‘Better Place’ con. I remember it turned out exactly as predicted.

        Gotta hand it to the carnival barker. Turning your stock grant from a company you didn’t really found, and were run out of long before it’s ‘big payday’, into worship of your mediocre ideas is a gift to be sure.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          I don’t blame Musk.

          He’s a fantastic promoter, rolling his PayPal sale profits over into Tesla & SpaceX, etc.

          I don’t see Tesla as a viable, profitable, sustainable long-run, *mass-scale* producer of daily driven motor vehicles on tje order of a Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, GM, Ford, or even a Mazda, etc., but maybe there will be a revolutionary breakthrough in both 1) electric charging infrastructure (and lowered costs to build rapid charging station infrastructure out), and 2) huge leaps forward in ability of EV batteries to store much larger quantities of energy in a stable manner and keep that larger quantity of energy stored in widely varying temperature/environmental conditions over sustained periods of time, such that pure EVs can match or exceed the range of ICE vehicles (which will only achieve far greater per-tank range levels in the next 10 and even 5 years, on the order of 600 to 800 miles for compact and midsize vehicles).

          • 0 avatar
            porschespeed

            There may be a revolutionary breakthrough, but Musk’s people won’t make it.

            Huge leaps in battery tech will also not be made by Musk’s employees. There’s some really cool zinc-air stuff afoot, and if it actually pans out, Musk is sunk. “If” being the word…

            I’m all in favor of electrics (instant peak TQ, hell yeah!). I just know Musk and his bunch of f-wits won’t be delivering them in the future.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @porschespeed There is a lot of battery tech moving from the lab into pilot production, including massive improvements in lithium ion density and manufacturing processes. As far as I know, none of it’s coming from Tesla.

            I think the biggest improvements are related to the manufacturing process. Tesla seems to have made a huge investment in the older processes and I’m not sure how quickly can they move to newer methods. Newer techniques have made it possible to go from components to cells 5 times faster. The drying stage in conventional Lithium ion electrode manufacturing can take over 22 hours – new processes totally eliminate that step. Current technology batteries have 35% of their interior filled with material that doesn’t contribute to energy storage. That’s been reduced to 8% in the newer processes.

            This technology is in the process of moving from the lab and into the manufacturing phase. I’m hearing estimates that they’ll be in large scale production by 2020.

            Lots of other battery tech coming soon. It’s not just for EVs. Batteries are everywhere. In fact, we’re literally a battery driven economy even without EVs. There’s a huge incentive for improving battery technology. The improvements will keep coming.

            Currently, there are scientists looking closer at ICE emmissions and I think we will probably see new tighter standards in the future for pollutants we didn’t even know were there. Particulate filters on GDI engines will be the first, but there will be more. The end result is that ICEs will get more complex, more expensive, and less reliable. So basically, you have ICEs getting worse and EVs improving.

            There’s a tipping point where the ICE support structure starts going away. I’m not sure how far we are from that, but you can bet it’s coming. Gas pumps at convenience stores get replaced with superchargers, muffler shops start disappearing, ICE techs get scarce etc. ICE powered cars will also be primarily owned by senior citizens and they’ll be further stigmatized.

            Changes are coming and the only question now is how long it will take. Right now I think at least 10 years – but that could change.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            “I think the biggest improvements are related to the manufacturing process. Tesla seems to have made a huge investment in the older processes and I’m not sure how quickly can they move to newer methods.”

            You’re making assumptions based on a serious lack of knowledge. While you may be correct in what you say, you could also be wrong simply because the Gigafactory is neither completed nor operating at full capacity. They have the ability to install the “latest and greatest” battery making equipment that does all that you claim without having to remove existing, now obsolete hardware. If any of that technology you describe is designed by or used by Panasonic then Tesla actually has a leg up on the other manufacturers in cost simply because they won’t have to remove or modify obsolete hardware.

          • 0 avatar
            porschespeed

            @mcs, I agree the future is electric (at least what I will live to see). The fun thing about battery tech, is that it does get better every day. Which of course is the problem – like all things electronic, by the time you actually build it, it’s obsolete.

            I know there’s better processes coming to Li-I batteries all the the time. There’s also claims (haven’t seen the hard core proof yet) of some recent breakthroughs in Zinc-air, which would instantly eclipse the former. It’s a very scary world, that of making batteries right now – it’s more a moving target shot from a speeding train than making computer chips.

            Barring some massive disruption, it will be 15+ years before we get close to any tipping point vis-a-vis ICE going away. Frankly, self driving cars will be ubiquitous long before ICE starts disappearing.

            You are right, some infrastructure is going away, though that’s much more about better/more complex materials. Even domestics put s/s exhaust on many cars, and at least design the mild steel better. Transmissions are rapidly getting way too complicated for anyone to fix, not to mention expensive. You can buy a transmission shop for almost nothing.

            Vulpine, I understand your point but I think you overestimate how fluid that construction is. The lead times for large industrial equipment, especially custom stuff is rather long. If the factory is to be 100% in 2020, the layout, processes, and equipment are determined. They can be evolved, but that is building a new set of tracks for a moving train.

            (I know, two train analogies in one post. Lazy.)

  • avatar
    Tstag

    France would be the worst country to build a car factory in. Labour rates are ridiculous. He’s either got to go to Eastern Europe to access cheaper labour costs or sonewhere like the UK or Hermany where labour rates are reasonable by industry standards and where there are skilled engineers. If the plan is to simply bolt cars together it will be E Europe

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Not to mention that the business environment discourages innovation or success and the labor unions are toxic to growth. France is probably the last country I’d consider for a new plant in Europe.

      What about that transparent factory that makes Phaetons in East Germany that Jack wrote about last week. I suspect VW is eager for any cash they could get out of Tesla.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Free real estate
        Subsidies for EVs
        Subsidies for other stuff (if negotiated, which it will be)
        High-ish unemployment rate (about 10%)
        Central location

        What’s not to like?

        Tesla set up shop in Fremont because of (a) generous state subsidies and (b) Toyota essentially paid Tesla to take the NUMMI plant. (TMC was highly motivated to unload in order to avoid the environmental remediation costs that it would have otherwise had.)

        There are parallels here to this, including the fact that labor costs are just secondary in the automotive business, given that labor isn’t a large component of total cost.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I was about to say this. The socialist nature of France makes it bad for production, unions, benefits, and worker stability.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Tesla needs good press. Building your next car factory in a decommissioned nuclear plant is not good press.

    This is the same dance we saw played out with the Gigafactory’s location. Texas and California never had a chance for the GF; France doesn’t have a chance for Fremont II.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Not good press? Ahem: You hate nukes? Great news, we’ve repurposed a nuclear plant to produce the greenest vehicle on the planet! You love nukes? Hey, this car was built in the cooling tower’s shadow! How awesome is that?! Musk could spin this in his sleep.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      All it needs for that good press is to have a company that is actually, you know, viable. That makes money.

      The blather about infrastructure investment is just that – it’s a necessary part of selling the car, and needs to continue to be scaled as production continues. Ongoing expense.

      What’s better than having a company that’s a cash furnace? Having two furnaces, on separate continents. All the better to burn cash.

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    England is out. His enemies manipulated the government to crush his solar panel business there.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    I wouldn’t rule the UK out on that basis. Far more likely to rule the UK out is employee cost.

    Personally I’d like to see Tesla buddy up with JLR and share a car factory in the short to medium term(JLR have plans for an electric one possibly in Coventry). The reason? Tesla know electric cars, but are taking fire for fit and finish and leak sunroofs. Jaguar know how to get premium fit and finish in a car. Both are relative minows in the car industry. They would be a good fit for a JV I would have thought.

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    Official playbook to lure Elon Musk:

    1) Taxpayer assumes all risk, liability and costs
    2) Allow him/tesla to keep all revenue (if any)

    If I may quote Mr. Jack Baruth assessment of AutoWeek, but apply it to Elon Musk;

    “Time for AutoWeek to get its knees dirty, and it turns out they are no choosier than a heroin addict occupying a bathroom stall at the Troubadour.”

    Namely, if your paying for it, Elon will be more than happy to take your money and get down on his knees for that needle of sweet, sweet taxpayer heroin.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    Speaking of Norway, Tesla would probably dominate Scandinavia if they’d made a station wagon of the model 3.

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