Tesla’s growth needs have developers salivating

For an automaker that sold fewer than 150,000 vehicles worldwide last year, Tesla continues to create a stir among economic development officials inside and outside the U.S.

The electric vehicle maker is on the prowl for assembly capacity, battery production sites and possibly more distribution space.

But it doesn’t always share details of its plans with the outside world.

In late November, Tesla was discovered by local media to be building an 870,000-square-foot building in Lathrop, Calif., near a site where it began leasing industrial space in 2014, about 60 miles northeast of its Fremont assembly plant.

Tesla hasn’t commented on its plans for the building, even though it’s nearly completed. One theory is that growing production of the Model 3 sedan in Fremont is creating the need for new vehicle prep and distribution space.

Tesla has ramped up Model 3 production in Fremont to about 5,000 a week, although the project has been hampered by factory capacity problems and bottlenecks for several months.

Unlike more established automakers, which often have portfolios of available buildings and manufacturing space to accommodate new models, Tesla started with one assembly plant and has had to expand on the fly as its product portfolio and supply needs have grown. Any new Tesla models would require new buildings and production sites, and new hires to go with them.

According to company statements in the past year, Tesla plans to launch a pickup, a roadster, a commercial semitruck and the Model Y crossover.

Each new vehicle requires additional battery production, too, and Musk has said he will eventually build as many as 12 Gigafactories, as his battery and component plants are known.

His first, in Nevada, employs 3,000 people. But Musk has said he envisions the Nevada plant eventually employing 20,000.

Last year, Tesla began quietly ramping up production at Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, N.Y., a production line dedicated to solar panels and cells rather than auto batteries. It also began making plans for Gigafactory 3 in China.

Tesla also is expanding a plant in Tilburg, Netherlands, where it has performed final assembly work on the California-built Model S since 2013, and is contemplating a plan to invest in another Gigafactory in Europe, possibly in Germany.