Tesla officially reopens NUMMI auto plant


Fremont's newest employer is in the shell of a familiar old plant. Tesla has grand plans to employ as many as 5,000 people in the future -- about the same as the head count when NUMMI was here.

Where it once said NUMMI for a quarter century, Tesla's new sign ushers in a new era. Inside, most people would say this is the ghost of the past -- an idle auto plant that used to produce Corollas, Vibes and Tacoma pick-ups. But instead, Tesla sees this as its future and where a new generation of electric cars will be built. The clock is ticking with production less than two years away.

Gilbert Passin is vice president of manufacturing and it's his job to make the transformation.

"What we have in mind is a little bit like an aerospace-type feeling with white floors and very, very clean, very orderly, very organized, very visual," he said.

Tesla will make its model "S" electric sedan at this plant and capacity will be a 500,000 cars per year. but it will start slowly, with one shift a day, with 450 employees -- about one-tenth of the number of NUMMI workers.

Some of the equipment will be replaced with newer equipment, but one thing is clear -- the Tesla plant when it finally goes in production two years from now will be occupying only about five to 10 percent of the original NUMMI plant.

"This plant was really the one we always hoped we could get but really didn't think we could ever afford," Tesla Motors Founder and CEO Elon Musk said.

The $42 million purchase was helped by a loan from the dept. of energy designed to promote green tech.

Tesla paid an additional $17 million for equipment Toyota didn't take for its other plants. It will add robotics and other high tech devices that could allow such processes as windshield installation without people.

Hiring of assembly line workers won't happen until late next year with vehicle production scheduled for the middle of 2012.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., says this bodes well for the future.

"We can have a blue collar manufacturing base, but it says that if we're smart that that manufacturing base is green," she said.

It was the first time Musk mentioned the long-term goal of hiring 5,000 workers and a lot will depend on how well their electric car sells.

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