Jon Gertner in The New York Times:
TWENTY MILES EAST of Reno, Nev., where packs of wild mustangs roam free through the parched landscape, Tesla Gigafactory 1 sprawls near Interstate 80. It is a destination for engineers from all over the world, to which any Reno hotel clerk can give you precise, can’t-miss-it directions. The Gigafactory, whose construction began in June 2014, is not only outrageously large but also on its way to becoming the biggest manufacturing plant on earth. Now 30 percent complete, its square footage already equals about 35 Costco stores, and a small city of construction workers, machinery and storage containers has sprung up around it. Perhaps the only thing as impressive as its size is its cloak of secrecy, which seems of a piece with Tesla’s increasing tendency toward stealth, opacity and even paranoia. When I visited in September, a guard at the gate gave militaristic instructions on where to go. Turning to my Lyft driver, he said severely: “When you complete the drop-off, you are not to get out of the car. Under any circumstances. Turn around and leave. Immediately.”
To hear its executives tell it, Tesla is misunderstood because it is still perceived as a car manufacturer, when its goals are more complex and far-reaching. But at least some people have bought into these grand ambitions. This summer, Tesla’s stock-market valuation at times rose above those of Ford and General Motors, and its worth exceeded $60 billion. It did not seem to matter to investors that the company had never made an annual profit, had missed its production targets repeatedly and had become enmeshed in controversy over its self-driving “autopilot” technologies, or that Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, had conceded that the value of his company, of which he owns about 22 percent, was “higher than we have the right to deserve.” Tesla was a headlong bet on the future, a huge wager on the idea of a better world. And its secretive Gigafactory was the arsenal for a full-fledged attack on the incumbent powers of the car and fossil-fuel industries. The factory would help validate Musk and his company’s seriousness about leading humanity’s turn to greener technologies, with a vision now encompassing solar roofing tiles and battery packs for home and industry. Most crucial, it involved producing millions of Tesla cars and trucks, all of which would be sleek, electric and self-driving.