Tesla bringing plant to Central Valley, but it’s not the big one

04/22/2014 6:01 PM

08/02/2014 10:37 AM

Tesla Motors Inc. is opening a factory in the San Joaquin Valley, but it’s almost certainly not the 6,500-job battery plant that’s being coveted by governors and community leaders in California and other states.

The maker of luxury electric cars leased a 430,000-square-foot facility in Lathrop, officials from the San Joaquin Partnership announced Tuesday. The facility had been a DaimlerChrysler distribution center but has been vacant for several years.

State officials welcomed the development. Gov. Jerry Brown’s office of business and economic development is “excited that Tesla is expanding their footprint in California,” said deputy director Brook Taylor. “The new plant will support jobs across the state as Tesla continues to ramp up production in California.”

Still, it’s not clear whether California is in serious contention for the mega-factory Tesla is considering, despite overtures from state officials.

Two months ago, Tesla said Nevada, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico were the finalists for its multibillion-dollar Gigafactory, which would manufacture batteries and employ 6,500 workers at final buildout.

Absent from the list was California, which has given Tesla tens of millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks to reopen the old NUMMI car factory in Fremont. Officials such as U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein prodded Tesla founder Elon Musk to consider California for the battery plant, and company officials told The Bee last week that Tesla is having “conversations” with Brown’s economic development office about the facility.

For now, though, Tesla’s website continues to list the other four states as finalists. The company didn’t return phone calls from The Bee on Tuesday.

Lathrop and other cities in San Joaquin County had been home to various auto-parts manufacturing and distribution facilities when NUMMI was open in Fremont. NUMMI closed during the recession.

At 430,000 square feet, the Lathrop facility being leased by Tesla is a fraction of the 10 million square feet required for the battery facility. Tesla’s website listed 32 job openings at Lathrop, including engineers, technicians and supervisors. The Stockton Record, quoting unidentified economic development officials in the region, said Tesla is planning a parts-manufacturing facility that would employ 125 workers to start.

Also Tuesday, Tesla delivered its first eight all-electric sedans to customers in China, and Musk said the company will build a nationwide network of charging stations and service centers in the country as fast as it can.

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