UK Tesla gigafactory? What to make of Elon Musk’s mysterious visit to Britain

Musk has recently been in the spotlight for his role in crashing the crypto market after a U-turn on bitcoin, which he and Tesla have backed for years. Photo: Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty Images
Musk has recently been in the spotlight for his role in crashing the crypto market after a U-turn on bitcoin, which he and Tesla have backed for years. Photo: Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Elon Musk's influence continues as the businessman's brief visit to the UK sent the rumour wheel spinning that he's considering opening a Tesla "gigafactory" in Britain.

The Tesla (TSLA) boss's trip coincided with reports the UK government is searching for a site for an unknown project, according to the Telegraph.

Regional authorities – including those in Teesside and the West Midlands – were given an unusually short 48 hours to prepare bids for a 250-hectare site, without being told what company the bid was for, according to the newspaper.

Car firms and the UK government have been calling for an electric battery gigafactory since last February's announcement that the sale of diesel, petrol and hybrid cars will be banned in the UK from 2035.

This paved the way for many electric companies, including Tesla setting their sights on the UK to plug the gap. The electric car manufacturers first announced in 2014, plans to build a European research and development facility in the UK, later reversing on the decision.

Then in 2019, Musk argued that Brexit made it "too risky" to build a so-called gigafactory in Britain. Instead, he declared his love for Berlin, identifying a site on the city’s outskirts for its fourth sprawling plant.

A sign that reads 'Tesla Street' near the construction site of Tesla Gigafactory, in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters
A sign that reads 'Tesla Street' near the construction site of Tesla Gigafactory, in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Last year, the US tycoon reportedly flew into Britain to visit a number of sites, amid potential plans to build a 90-acre electric car plant.

If true, any investment would boost UK's car sector which employs 180,000 and accounts for about an eighth of the country’s goods exports, with 80% of the average 1.5m cars built pre-COVID sold overseas.

Tesla made half a million cars last year, and plans to boost production rapidly. The company, which already has production sites in Nevada, America and in China is also looking at opening production facilities in other parts of the world.

Watch: Musk says Tesla is closer to establishing presence in Russia

On Friday, the CEO said the electric carmaker is considering expansion in Russia. Speaking at a conference in Moscow on Friday, Musk said Tesla was "close to establishing a Tesla presence in Russia , and more broadly also in Kazakhstan and neighbouring regions," the FT reported.

Read more: Dogecoin jumps as Elon Musk takes to Twitter again

Musk has recently been in the spotlight for his role in crashing the crypto market after a U-turn on bitcoin, which he and Tesla have backed for years.

The billionaire, who is also the chief executive of space exploration firm SpaceX, sent bitcoin prices tumbling earlier this month after unexpectedly withdrawing Tesla's support for bitcoin payments.

He cited the environmental impact of bitcoin mining as the reason behind the unexpected U-turn.

Musk said he still believed in crypto but remained concerned about bitcoin's energy usage. According to Cambridge University, bitcoin mining accounts for 0.7% of the world's electricity consumption.

The Tesla chief has also played a pivotal role in getting joke-crypto dogecoin (DOGE-USD) to record highs, although he briefly crashed after a Saturday Night Live (SNL) appearance.

Watch:What are the risks of investing in cryptocurrency?