Arsonists calling themselves the Volcano Group left Tesla’s German factory without electricity on Tuesday, leading to damages the company claims could approach $1 billion.

More than 60,000 residents in Brandenburg and even parts of Berlin were also affected when a single high-voltage power mast near Tesla’s factory in Grünheide was set ablaze, raising broader questions over how to protect defenseless infrastructure critical to the economy from vandals, saboteurs and criminals. 

“The complete destruction of the Gigafactory and the lopping off of technofascists like ‘Elend’ Musk are a step on the path towards liberation from the patriarchy,” the group said in a statement sent to media, using a wordplay for Musk’s first name that in German means “misery”.

The plant’s senior director Andre Thierig estimated the economic loss to Tesla from the production stop and subsequent ramp-up in the “high hundreds of millions” of euros as some 1,000 vehicles each day cannot be built.

His factory, the company’s first in Europe, manufactures the Model Y crossover for most European left-hand drive markets including Germany. 

Emergency power still requires the local substation, which converts electricity into useful lower voltages, to still be connected with the rest of the grid.

The attack, however, severed the lines between the mast and the substation situated an hour’s drive east of downtown Berlin, causing backup systems to fail. 

With Grünheide’s ventilation knocked out, all 12,500 employees had to be sent home and it could take several days for the damage to be repaired by the local grid operator. 

“We currently do not expect to resume production this week,” Thierig told reporters.

Relatively little is known about the small-time saboteurs, who—despite being the “dumbest eco-terrorists on Earth” according to Musk—have escaped arrest so far.

Their method appears to be striking only once every year or two in largely remote locations, setting fire to electronic cables that control everything from telecommunication and trains to manufacturing plants. 

The Federal Association for the Protection of Critical Infrastructures (BSKI) in Germany said these targets are little more than sitting ducks since too little is being done to guard them.

“We need to protect these objects just like we might with a military installation,” BSKI vice chairman Hans-Walter Borries told regional broadcaster Radio Berlin-Brandenburg on Tuesday, suggesting the use of drones to monitor them.

Multiple headaches for Tesla’s only European factory

The Volcano Group had already targeted the Tesla factory’s power supply during the construction phase of the plant in May 2021 months before it went into operation.

“We demonstratively stand with Tesla and will do everything in our power to prevent any further attacks,” Brandenburg industries minister Jörg Steinbach said in a press briefing.

He echoed condemnations by Germany’s federal minister of the interior in denouncing the crime, but went one step further by claiming it shared certain characteristics with terrorism.

It’s the latest headache for Tesla and the Brandenburg government to arise recently in connection with the factory.

Only recently local residents voted against an expansion of the Grünheide factory in a referendum not binding for the municipal government, with the result that some protesters are camping in the woods to prevent any clearing attempt.

Then a report in Stern cited local water utility WSE as having found evidence the carmaker has been polluting the water supply for the past two years with harmful levels of phosphorus and nitrogen compounds as much as six times the legal limit (Tesla did not deny the readings).

“Whether these issues will have an effect on the expansion of the plant I cannot say,” Thierig added.

Earlier this year output also ground to a halt after battery cells shipped from Asia had to be redirected away from the Suez Canal due to attacks launched by Iran-backed Houthi militants in the Red Sea.

There may at least be a silver lining in this week’s stoppage.

A lack of production may help bring inventories of unsold Teslas in Europe back down to manageable levels without the need for further price incentives.


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