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OM in the News: Tesla and the Mother of All Factory Chases

September 8, 2014

Tesla NevadaAfter pitting five potential host states against one another in a quest for hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives, Tesla Motors reports in The New York Times (Sept. 5, 2014) that it has struck a deal with Nevada for construction of a sprawling factory to build batteries for electric cars and the power grid. To secure the deal, Nevada paid dearly. The package of tax breaks totals about $1.25 billion over 20 years. Gov. Brian Sandoval acknowledged that there were concerns over the deal’s cost, but said that the agreement would “change Nevada forever” and that he expected the enormous tax breaks to pay dividends down the road.

Whether it will work that way is not clear. But the prospect of having such a large plant nevertheless set off “the mother of all factory chases,” according to an industry expert. The deal goes beyond tax breaks. It means Tesla would pay no sales tax for 20 years, no property tax and payroll tax for 10 years, and it would receive other tax credits tied to job creation and development. Nevada will also grant Tesla discount electricity rates for 8 years and make millions of dollars in road improvements around the factory site.

An important element for Tesla is the anticipated cost reduction is moving the fabrication of various components to a single spot, making the factory more of a campus than a single operation. Today, bringing the main components of the battery together is expensive. CEO Elon Musk describes the current system as “being put in a box, and then on a truck and then on a boat, and going through customs and stuff like that.” Still, analysts question whether the plant’s vast size will result in the huge price cut, an essential element of making the factory useful. At the heart of the strategy is to build a kind of battery that resembles the ones used for years in laptops and hand-held electronics.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Referring to the incentive issue in Chapter 8, discuss Nevada’s decision.

2. Who is taking the most risk in this location decision?

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