Tesla and Zetta to build a car factory in Narva, Estonia

Tesla, an American electric vehicle company, and Zetta, a Russian e-vehicle maker, have announced a construction of a joint microfactory in Narva – an Estonian town by the country’s border with Russia – to build a compact Model N; the companies reasoned the decision by the town’s easy access for the European Union’s market on one hand, and the skilled car industry workforce from Russia on the other.*

“After careful consideration, we’ve decided to build a new Tesla microfactory in Estonia,” Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, said in a statement. “While we considered Russia as a possible new location, it entails too many risks. So we decided to put the factory near Russia, while also ensuring an uncomplicated access to the European Union market. Besides, Estonia has proven its willingness to support innovation in electric cars”.

The factory would be Tesla’s second in Europe, after the car maker’s “gigafactory”, currently under construction in Berlin, Germany.

The factory in Narva would be run as a collaboration between Tesla and the enterprise that makes the first Russian electric car, Zetta – a compact three-door car with a two or four-wheel electric drive. Zetta would sell the car made in Narva in the Russian market.

The first Russian electric car, Zetta. It is claimed to be “the cheapest electric car in the world”. Photo by Zetta.

An historical powerhouse

The companies did not yet provide further details whether the new small electric vehicle, called Model N, would have any Russian design or engineering output. But the companies said Zetta would provide some of the skilled workforce from Russia – in addition to Estonian employees. Some of the workers would be travelling from the Russian town of Ivangorod, located a stone throw away on the right bank of the Narva River, by the Estonia-Russia border.

Tesla’s Narva factory would employ approximately 2,000 workers – a welcome boost for a town hard hit by the decline of the old industries. Narva was historically an industrial powerhouse – for example, the town once hosted the textile manufacturing company, Kreenholm, that ran the largest cotton spinning and manufacturing mills in the world, employing 12,000 people alone.

Kreenholm once ran the largest cotton spinning and manufacturing mills in the world. Photo by Station Narva.

“This is welcoming news,” Katri Raik, Narva’s mayor, told Estonian World. “And it is symbolic – as the old environmentally damaging oil shale industry in the region is gradually closing down, the environmentally friendly electric car industry is moving in.”

Good for security

Maarja Nirk, an Estonian security expert, also hailed the security aspect of the Tesla-Zetta arrangement. “On the one hand, the US would have an extra stimulus to protect Estonia, when one of their most valuable companies have invested in the country. On the other, it is hoped that the cross-border workforce movement would also benefit Estonia-Russia relations,” she told Estonian World.

Narva River flows between Narva (left) in Estonia and Ivangorod (right) in Russia. Photo by Jaak Kadak.

Several Estonian entrepreneurs lobbied many years for Tesla to build its new factory in Estonia.

In 2017, the Pakri Science and Industrial Park, located in north-western part of the country, even initiated a marketing campaign to explain why Estonia – a successful technology pioneer – should become the place where the automobile giant should build its factory. “If Tesla were a country, it would be Estonia,” Enn Laansoo, Jr, the CEO of the industrial park, said at the time.

An Estonian connection already

Tesla already has an indirect connection to Estonia. Steve Jurvetson, born to an Estonian family in the US, was a member of the Tesla board of directors from 2006 to 2020. James Murdoch, a current member of the Tesla board, is the son of Anna Murdoch (born Tõrv), the Scottish-born daughter of an Estonian merchant and seaman. 

Steve Jurvetson with the first production Tesla Model S. Photo by Steve Jurvetson, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 licence.

Tesla and Zetta did not yet provide details as to when the construction of the new factory would start – nor the cost.

Founded in July 2003, Tesla’s name is a tribute to inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla. The company currently produces four different models, all of them electric vehicles. As of January 2021, Tesla was the most valuable car company in the world – having a market cap four times higher than Toyota and eight times that of Volkswagen.

Read also: WATCH: 92-year-old Estonian lady trying out Tesla Model X.

* Please note that this story was an April Fools’ Day joke.

Cover: A view to the Narva River (Shutterstock) and a Tesla city car design sketch by André Domingues. The image is illustrative.

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