In a recent question-and-answer session with Russian students, Elon Musk said that Tesla may consider constructing a factory in Russia. The comments came during his participation at the Russian “New Knowledge” forum via a video call, during which he covered a broad range of topics, including electric cars, his plans for Mars, and even the possibility of alien life.
“I think we’re close to establishing Tesla presence in Russia and that would be great. And more broadly, also in Kazakhstan and neighboring regions. It’s important for us to support Tesla supporters like yourself,” he said.
He indicated that, eventually, Tesla could have factories all over the world. A typical Gigafactory employs more than 10,000 people once it is up and running. Gigafactories that are still in various stages of construction include Gigafactory Berlin and a Gigafactory near Austin, Texas.
Gigafactory Berlin has seen delays due to complications with gaining regulatory approval, legal challenges from German environmental groups, and the replacement of a manager after hints of mismanagement leaked to the public in the form of an unpaid water bill. The hiring of a former Mercedes-Benz manager to take over management for Gigafactory Berlin reportedly caused a flap with a large German automakers’ union. Tesla ended up delaying Gigafactory Berlin’s opening to 2022. Due to complications like these, Tesla may move cautiously when establishing new factories in countries like Russia.
On the flip side, it’s possible that any interest that Musk has in establishing a factory in Russia may be spurred on by ongoing tensions with China. Official diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China are tense right now and Tesla has apparently been pulled into the ongoing tug-of-war, starting with the Chinese government banning Tesla vehicles from parking at government facilities due to concerns that their onboard cameras could capture footage of sensitive activities. Tesla denies that the vehicles’ cameras are active in China. Even so, the company will not want to give up its presence in the important Asian market even though recent data suggests that sales of Tesla vehicles has slowed down in China recently.
Elon Musk did indicate optimism for the advance of technology over the next half century: “Safe to say that 50 years from now will not be what we think it will be. There are fundamental size makeshifts in technology, artificial intelligence, space travel, neurocomputer interfaces, synthetic RNA and DNA. Those are the big ones.”
During the Q&A, Musk did reiterate his intention to build a self-sustaining settlement on Mars, indicating that this settlement and a viable base on the Moon will be vital for reaching the rest of the Solar System. He may have reason to be more optimistic now that SpaceX has successfully nailed a high-altitude test of the SN15 Starship prototype and is planning an orbital test for Starship. He had previously expressed annoyance with regulators like the FAA in the aftermath of the loss of four Starship prototypes in a row in high-altitude tests, although SpaceX’s engineers got enough data to make improvements for SN15.
The Starship rocket and spacecraft will be critical for Musk’s plans for Mars and derivatives will include a Starship-based lunar lander, though work on that is being held up by a challenge from Blue Origin and Dynetics with the Government Accountability Office playing referee.
Musk also indicated that it may be possible for humans to not only become an interplanetary species, but also travel to other star systems. Astronomers now discover new exoplanets on a regular basis, including a few that may be suitable for “life as we know it.” He said that reaching those systems in a reasonable amount of time would require the development of antimatter engines that can reach 10% to 20% of the speed of light. He expressed the opinion that going to other star systems should be done “while the window is still open.”
When someone asked if he believed in God, Musk seemed to imply that he is agnostic, but may have some spiritual leanings: “I’m not religious in a traditional sense, because you know I was raised in a scientific school of thought. But at the same time I do wonder — where does all of this come from? What’s the meaning of life? How did we get to be here? What are even the right questions to ask? I would say that … philosophy is to expand the scope and scale of our mind so that we are able to ask the right questions about the universe.”
At the end of the Q&A, Elon Musk told students to “stay positive for the future and fight [for] a good future with high energy.”