In-Depth: What Tesla's Chinese Gigafactory tells us about the future
The in-depth series is a weekly column looking at hot motoring topics with a political twist.
In his 1978 work ‘The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival’, British historian and philosopher Sir John Bagot Glubb documented what he called the ‘life cycle of the empire’. Having studied dozens of historical empires, Glubb concluded that each passed through the same seven stages as it grew and flourished before slowing and plateauing and finally shrinking and imploding.
He argued that each empire begins with an age of outburst and pioneers, before progressing onto an age of conquests, then commerce, followed by affluence, then intellect, before decadence, and finally decline and collapse. Glubb contested that empires of all forms, regardless of their historical context, conformed to this basic structure over generations and eventually succumbed to the same fate.
Elon Musk is an emperor. He began as a student armed with an almighty entrepreneurial spirit and ventured fearlessly into the big wide world of business. Having made his fortune in finance and computing, he founded SpaceX and Tesla as he positioned himself very definitively as the leading face of the technological revolution, arms spread wide at the stern of the ship like Kate Winslet.
Musk’s Tesla empire is the one of concern to those of an automotive persuasion. The company, in the grand scheme of things, is very young at just fifteen years old but has erupted onto centre-stage of the motoring revolution. It was the first carmaker to truly launch itself into electric vehicle innovation, and it continues to lead the way in terms of autonomous technology.
Tesla has now passed the first stage of its empire life cycle, namely the age of outburst and pioneers, and has passed into the age of conquest. Certainly in terms of electric vehicles, it has the technology and the designs and even the orders and is now in the process of making them a reality. It is transitioning from some exciting drawings in a rented office to a real, functioning automotive giant that leads the entire market.
As with everything, Musk does not take the concept of conquest lightly, the latest manifestation of which can be found in the news of Tesla’s booming march into China. It was revealed this week that an agreement has been signed between Elon and Chinese authorities to build a factory in the city of Shanghai, home to more people than Belgium and Tunisia put together.
Of course, this is Tesla; inevitably, this will be no ordinary factory. Musk professes that it shall be the first ever Tesla Gigafactory outside of the US, having already set a target of churning out half a million vehicles within five years of being built. In a statement, Musk described the as yet non-existent facility as ‘a state-of-the-art vehicle factory and a role model for sustainability’.
This age of conquest is an astounding one to witness. In this stage, the emperor sees the potential of his mighty forces and swoons over enormous maps as he fantasises about the vast swathes of land over which he could rule. Once this part of the cycle is complete and Tesla has expanded as far as its waistline will stretch, it will progress into being a staggeringly efficient economic machine, using commerce to rake in wealth.
The collation of this wealth will allow for the commencement of the ages of affluence and decadence, in which it will spend much time pacing and being wise as it contemplates the enigmas of existence whilst living off the aforementioned affluence. Those stages are often quickly subsumed by that of decadence, which will see Elon finally take his eye off the ball and slip into procrastination and a sense of universal futility, thereby inviting a perhaps inevitable doom.
We ought, therefore, to enjoy Tesla as it resides among us in all its glory. Relish the marvel of its commercial and technological conquest and reap the wondrous motoring fruit it bears.