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Climate Protesters Storm Tesla’s Gigafactory in Europe

May 10, 2024 9:08 AM

Climate Protesters Storm Tesla’s Gigafactory in Europe

The carmaker’s only European gigafactory has become the target of increasingly radical protests since announcing expansion plans.

Police confront environmental activists in a forest near the Tesla Gigafactory electric car factory

Photograph: Axel Schmidt/Getty Images

German climate protesters clashed with police as they attempted to break into Tesla’s factory site near Berlin on Friday, during a five-day demonstration against the carmaker’s local expansion plans.

Footage on social media showed crowds of black-clad protesters running toward Tesla premises. German media reported injuries among police and protesters, as well as an unknown number of arrests.

“Why are they not jailed for breaking and entering?” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on X. He denied the protesters had reached Tesla property. “Protesters did not manage to break through the fenceline. There are still 2 intact fence lines all around.”

Police also denied that protesters had ever made it to the gigafactory, claiming they only reached a field in front of the site. “Several people are trying to gain unauthorized access to the Tesla factory premises,” the local police said on X on Friday morning local time. “We have been able to prevent them from entering so far,” they said hours later.

Eight hundred people participated in the protest, Lucia Mende, spokesperson for the group Disrupt Tesla, told WIRED. She contradicted the police and Musk’s claim that the demonstrators did not reach Tesla property. She added activists were now on their way to a disused airfield which Tesla is reportedly using to store thousands of unsold cars. “They want to prevent the expansion of the factory,” Mende said of the protesters.

“[We] have witnessed how the protesters broke through police lines to get onto the factory grounds,” another anti-Tesla protester, Mara, spokesperson for a group called Stop Tesla, told WIRED. “We all stand together to disrupt Tesla.” Breaking into or occupying industrial sites is a common tactic used by more radical parts of the climate movement across Europe.

Tesla’s German factory, which produces electric cars and batteries, has for months been the target of protests by climate activists, who call the company’s green credentials a sham.

“Companies like Tesla are there to save the car industry, they’re not there to save the climate,” Esther Kamm, spokesperson for Turn Off the Tap on Tesla (known by its German initialism TDHA) told WIRED last week.

As of February, the factory was producing 6,000 cars a week. But production was halted on Friday in anticipation of the protest. The factory’s manager, André Thierig, confirmed earlier in the week there would be a “one day planned shutdown.”

Tesla had expressed plans to expand the site into the nearby forest in order to produce 1 million cars a year at the site, which is its only European gigafactory.

Those expansion plans have been opposed by an alliance of locals and climate activists. More than 60 percent of local residents voted against the expansion plans in a nonbinding poll held in February. Since then, protesters have been living in a forest encampment footsteps away from the factory’s perimeter fence.

Earlier on Friday, police said that the local train station, Fangschleuse, was closed as people sat on the tracks. It has since been reopened. The protests are expected to continue on Saturday.

Morgan Meaker is a senior writer at WIRED, covering Europe and European business from London. She won the top prize at the BSME Awards in 2023 and was part of the team that worked on WIRED’s award-winning investigation series “Inside the Suspicion Machine.” Before she joined WIRED in 2021, her… Read more
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