Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the company’s all-electric pickup, the Cybertruck, on Thursday night at one of his company’s signature promotional events in Los Angeles. The vehicle, which represents a large metallic trapezoid, will start at $39,900.
The truck is Tesla’s sixth vehicle since it was founded in 2003, and its most experimental. It will be competing in a market against the Ford F Series, which has been the best-selling pickup for more than 40 years in the U.S., followed by GM‘s Chevrolet Silverado, another formidable competitor.
The CEO previously said that Tesla intended to price its base model at under $50,000, that the truck’s styling would be “cyberpunk,” rather than traditional, inspired by two films — “Blade Runner” and “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Musk also previously suggested that demand for the truck may be less than demand for his company’s flagship Model S sedan and Model X SUV combined owing to its unique design.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduces the Cybertruck at an event on Nov. 21, 2019.
At the event on Thursday, the CEO introduced Tesla Chief Designer Franz Von Holzhausen to demonstrate how much of a beating the Cybertruck could take. The design leader took a sledgehammer to both the body and side window of the Cybertruck. (He shattered the window, but the hammer did not go through the toughened glass.) Musk claimed the truck was bulletproof against a 9mm handgun.
The Tesla CEO took several digs at Ford, the leader in the pickup category. He showed video of a “tug of war” between the F-150 and the Cybertruck. Recently, Ford took the wraps off its Mach E an all-electric Mustang SUV.
Elon Musk introduces the Cybertruck at an event on Nov. 21, 2019.
Toni Sacconaghi, Senior Technology Research Analyst at AB Bernstein, said on CNBC’s Power Lunch on Thursday, ahead of the unveiling, “The pickup market is really big, it’s about 3 million units in the US and that’s about 65% of the size of what we think the addressable market is for the Model 3 and Model Y,” referring to Tesla’s most mainstream car, an electric sedan, and forthcoming crossover SUV. He said if Tesla’s product was niche, it could at least be made at one of its existing factories in the U.S.
The Cybertruck, Tesla’s upcoming electric pickup truck, introduced on Nov. 21 2019.
Nobody expects Vietnam to replace China as the world’s major exporter, but the Southeast Asian country certainly appears to be taking some of China’s business with the United States.
In the first nine months of this year, U.S. imports from Vietnam jumped 34.8% year on year, accelerating from a 5.8% gain in all of 2018, according to a Thursday note by consultancy IHS Markit. In comparison, U.S. imports from mainland China shrank 13.4% year on year in the January-to-September period, the note said.
Tariffs were a major reason behind the decline in U.S. imports from China, said Michael Ryan, IHS Markit’s associate director of comparative industry service, who wrote the note.
He added that Vietnam’s fastest growing export categories to the U.S. are computers, telephone equipment and other machinery.
Those products were among the U.S.’s top imports from mainland China, Mongolia and Taiwan in 2018, according to the United States Trade Representative. That suggests that Vietnamese exports of those goods to the U.S. may have replaced the reduction in flows between China and America.
Challenges for Vietnam
Vietnam is often named as one of the largest beneficiary of the trade war because of an increase in its exports to the U.S. In addition, Southeast Asian country has seen a jump in foreign direct investments from manufacturers looking to circumvent elevated tariffs between the U.S. and China.
But the U.S. has not invested in Vietnam in a big way, noted Ryan. He pointed out that American investments into Vietnam only accounts for 2.7% of total FDI the Southeast Asian country received.
One reason is the U.S. doesn’t have a free trade agreement with Vietnam and the broader Association of Southeast Asian Nations, according to the IHS Markit report. But that’s just “one of many factors tempering the pace and magnitude of supply-chain diversification” into Vietnam, Ryan said.
Vietnam is also faced with a shortage in skilled labor, he said. The country’s talent pool has not been able to support the influx of inquiries, as many multinational companies are looking to relocate parts of their manufacturing supply chain outside of China, he explained.
“Simply, demand is outpacing the current ability to supply,” he said, adding that infrastructure in Vietnam is not yet up to standards for many international firms to establish shops.
Specifically, that means finding local business partners and fulfilling government requirements to obtain permits could be major obstacles for foreign companies, according to Ryan. In addition, Vietnamese roads were poorly built and ports are already congested, which add to the time needed to travel and move goods around, he said.
“Taken in combination, these factors are lengthening the delivery cycle to consumers and point to a drawn-out process of extricating operations from mainland China’s orbit,” said Ryan.
The Phoenix Suns unveiled renderings and provided more details Thursday night surrounding the team’s $230 million renovation project of Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Labeled “Project 201: PHX Reimagined,” the 27-year-old venue, one of the oldest in the NBA that hasn’t been remodeled, will see an entire transformation. Among the upgrades is a new video scoreboard centerpiece that’s six times larger than the current scoreboard. In partnership with Verizon, the team will also upgrade the building to 5G coverage and enhance suites as the Suns are hoping to improve the fan experience at the arena.
“The sound system, the lighting system; we’re putting all new seats in the bowls,” Suns Managing Partner and Western Alliance Bancorporation Executive Chairman Robert Sarver told CNBC in an interview. “We reimaged the whole entrance to the arena … that’s going to turn into a sports bar with an 8,500-square foot video wall, and that’ll be the hub of activity in the building.”
According to details of the project, the City of Phoenix will contribute $150 million to the renovations while the team will add $80 million. As part of the agreement, the Suns are also privately funding a new state-of-the-art practice facility in Phoenix, which will cost in the range of $45-50 million.
The Suns renewed their lease with the city, who owns the building, six months ago, and the current contract runs out in 2037. As part of the renovation agreement, the organization can exercise an option to remain tenants until 2042.
Phoenix Suns unveil renderings of $230 million Talking Stick Resort Arena renovation project.
Additional features of the upgrade include a 15,000-square-foot kitchen and a corner bar located in the bowl section of the arena. The bar is something Sarver says will attract the Suns’ younger fanbase, as the team will look to take advantage of Arizona State University’s downtown campus with 12,000 students.
“We have a bigger pool to draw from, and the products that we put in place are tailored towards that pool of students,” Sarver said.
Sarver said the transformation should be 60% completed before the 2020-21 NBA season, with the second phase completed before the start of the 2021-22 season. Sarver added that the building would be closed next summer as “a lot of the heavy construction will take place.”
Once the project is complete, Sarver said ticket prices would likely increase but says the team aims to keep those prices “affordable.”
“Some of our products, the prices will go up based on the all-inclusive nature of what we’re going to be offering,” he said. “Other products, the prices will stay the same.”
Entering Thursday night’s contest with the New Orleans Pelicans, the Suns are 7-6 this season with a 5-4 home record.
CNBC’s Jim Cramer explains why Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade were forced to discuss a potential merger, or end up left behind by the disruption of tech companies in Silicon Valley. The “Mad Money” host says it’s time for investors to trim their holdings of marijuana stocks. In Thursday’s show, he sits down to chat with the CEOs of American Airlines and Advanced Micro Devices.
Beware the disruptors
In this photo illustration a Robinhood Markets logo seen displayed on a smartphone.
Rafael Henrique | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images
Robinhood and the “creative disruption unleashed by Silicon Valley” forced the potential merger between Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade brokerage firms, CNBC’s said Thursday.
“Earlier this year … Robinhood reached a tipping point in asset gathering that the incumbents, like Schwab and TD Ameritrade, had to respond to by abandoning commissions,” he said. “Now these companies have to combine to cut tech spending … ad spending to defend their turf” from app trading.
No recession turbulence in sight, according to United Airlines
Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Fears of the U.S. economy falling into a recession are significantly misguided, CEO Oscar Munoz told Cramer.
Cramer asked if he thought a recession was lurking.
“The answer is no,” Munoz said.
The fire is out on weed stocks
A customer lights a joint at Lowell Farms, America’s first official Cannabis Cafe offering farm-to-table dining and smoking of cannabis in West Hollywood, California, October 1, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters
Roughly one year after Canadian legalization, CNBC’s has tapped the breaks on his hypothesis for pot stocks claiming “the marijuana industry is just not what it was cracked up to be.”
Amid growing support to end prohibition in the United States, the “Mad Money” host said he may have been wrong in calling the weed business an “incredible opportunity.” He argued that it’s an opportune time for investors to put the fire out and downsize their holdings since multiple equities lost at least half their values in 2019.
“The cannabis industry [has] got to be rational and rationalized — it’s neither. Companies need to close, funding needs to dry up, mergers must occur,” the former hedge fund manager said. “Until then, these stocks are now sell-in-the-strength detritus. A casualty of a market not yet ready for prime time or anytime, for that matter.”
Advanced Micro Devices: Excitement around the data center market
The semiconductor manufacturer sees opportunity primarily selling both central and graphics processing units, she said. The chips can be used to quickly process data and perform complex calculations for needs such as gaming.
“The key is we want AMD to be a the center of that and really, you know, we view it as helping our customers unlock what they’re trying to do,” Su said. “What we like to do is we like to develop our road maps with” our top customer “five years out.”
Cramer’s lightning round
In Cramer’s lightning round, the “Mad Money” host zips through his thoughts about callers’ favorite stock picks of the day.
NANSHA, China — As investors and technologists worry that the U.S. is falling behind in the race for dominance in blockchain, Beijing is trying to get ahead.
“In a bear market for crypto we make friends; in a bull market we make money,” said Rae Deng, founding partner of Du Capital, a crypto investment firm based in Singapore.
Deng said at CNBC’s East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China she sees another flourishing crypto scene coming, with more Chinese investment striding to the market after Beijing suddenly announced plans to embrace blockchain technology.
“China is eyeing for a thorough digital migration,” she said. “The policy signal will definitely bring a lot of incremental capital into the market.”
She argued that Beijing’s public support will drive “traditional money” – corporate investment in Chinese traditional sectors — to become a big player. These investors previously shied away from the crypto market due to its sensitive status. Initial coin offerings (ICO) have been banned in China since 2017.
“The magnitude and appetite of the traditional money will definitely change the status quo of the crypto community,” she added. “That’s a total game changer.”
China’s blockchain opportunity
In late October, the global crypto market surged after Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country should “seize the opportunity” blockchain technology presents.
The price of bitcoin briefly soared above $10,000 following Xi’s remarks. That pop was mirrored by similar spikes in the prices of more than a hundred Chinese stocks with blockchain exposure as well as a bunch of other cryptocurrencies.
While Beijing’s unexpected move came after Facebook announced its Libra cryptocurrency project in June, the policy change did not happen overnight, according Edith Yeung, managing partner at Proof of Capital, a blockchain-focused venture capital fund.
“They have been working on and studying this for the last 5 years so this is not just ‘because of Libra therefore we do this’,” Yeung told CNBC.
China is moving full speed ahead while Facebook defends the cryptocurrency project against skeptical regulators. The social media giant has also seen many key payment partners, including Mastercard, Stripe, Visa, PayPal and eBay, pull out of the project.
Industry experts predict that China could start rolling out its state-backed digital currency as early as the next two to three months. Government grants have been set up to help blockchain projects. For example, Guangzhou’s city government launched a 1 billion yuan (about $140 million) subsidy fund to support development of the blockchain industry.
What’s the rush?
China’s crypto initiatives are strategically significant, according to Xiao Wunan, executive vice-chairman of the China-backed Asia Pacific Exchange and Co-operation Foundation (APECF).
“Blockchain is the technology field that China started to develop almost at the same time as other countries in the world,” said Xiao, who used to work in the Chinese government. “It’s hard for China to claim technological supremacy on fields like Internet Plus [China’s initiative on information technology] or artificial intelligence, but the blockchain technology would be a perfect fit for China’s technological dominance.”
“It’s called ‘corner overtaking’ strategy in Chinese,” Xiao told CNBC in Mandarin, indicating that the practice could be risky yet effective.
To be sure, China’s digital currency might be very different from bitcoin or other tokens, which emphasize anonymity and decentralization. A state-issued digital currency would help the Chinese government fight issues like counterfeiting and product safety, but it also raises privacy concerns.
Internationalization of the yuan
First, a state-backed digital coin could “further facilitate the internationalization of yuan,” Du Capital’s Deng said.
“It could run in parallel with the SWIFT [Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications] system and also the One Belt One Road initiative could be a carrier of that,” said Deng.
A digital currency would also be able to tap into China’s massive, and largely cashless, payments system.
“WeChat Pay has one billion transactions a day and footprints in 60 countries,” Deng told CNBC. “China has the digital payment infrastructure of that scale and also domestically as China is moving towards a cashless society. It only makes sense for the central bank to adapt to that digital revolution reality.”
China is the world’s largest e-commerce market, accounting for more than 50% of global transactions, according to a July report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. In 2018, third-party mobile payment transaction volume hit 190.5 trillion yuan, according to China-based analytics firm iResearch. That figure amounts to about $28.78 trillion, based off the 2018 average exchange rate from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Safer food and fewer counterfeits
A state-backed digital currency could give regulators greater abilities to track money flows and product logistics within that massive e-commerce market. That would better equip them to tackle issues like counterfeit goods and product safety concerns, APECF’s Xiao explained.
“The prime application would be in the agriculture sector because food security is one of the most crucial issues in China,” said Xiao. “Regulators would be able to track and identify origins of products. Also, if we apply the blockchain technology to Chinese e-commerce site, it would be much easier to address fake goods issues.”
His comments come as China grapples with skyrocketing pork prices as African swine fever kills millions of hogs.
“Similarly, it would be important to the healthcare sector too, as China may soon allow entry of Indian generic medicines in the country,” he added. “Traceability is best cure for fake medicine.”
Experts also see potential for a state-backed digital currency in China’s business-to-business (B2B) market. Currently, the country’s payment leaders – WeChat Pay and Alipay – focus on person-to-person or small payments, with little B2B exposure.
“Blockchains have a huge potential to reduce cycle time in business transactions,” said Paul Brody, head of blockchain at Ernst & Young.
“Adding B2B payment into the blockchain transaction in a strong global currency would have a big impact in accelerating B2B [activities],” Brody told CNBC. “You could have the first Chinese B2B payment infrastructure that could be very, very large.”
Concerns about fraud and a cryptobubble
But as cash floods into the latest crypto boom, concerns about fast-rising valuations and potential fraud also crop up.
“I hope we will avoid repeating some of the mistakes here in China that happened in the rest of the world,” said Brody.
Cryptocurrencies hit staggering highs toward the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, only to plunge to a fraction of those levels. Bitcoin has recently been seen trading around $8,000, far below its all-time high of nearly $20,000 in late 2017.
“Seventy-five percent of the companies in the [previous] ICO boom never produced any product. Most of them never got auditors and that’s why we got a lot of the fraud,” he told CNBC.
Valuations of Chinese crypto start-ups and projects are surging, making it harder for potential investors to negotiate.
“Some of the companies we spoke to immediately raised their valuations by more than 50% shortly after Xi’s speech,” Du Capital’s Deng said. “It has become harder for us to get deals at reasonable valuations because competition is heated.”
“I think there will be bubbles for sure,” she added.
General Motors sued its rival Fiat Chrysler on Wednesday, asserting that it bribed United Auto Workers officials in contract negotiations to get a leg up on G.M. over the course of a decade.
Hours after G.M. filed the lawsuit, in federal court, the union’s president resigned as the U.A.W. took steps to oust him.
The day’s events embroiled two of the country’s three biggest automakers and the union that represents their workers, a controversy the likes of which the industry has rarely experienced. The lawsuit and the turmoil at the top of the union stem from long-running Justice Department investigations into financial wrongdoing at the union and Fiat Chrysler.
Three former Fiat Chrysler executives and several U.A.W. officers have already pleaded guilty in cases that revealed a cozy back-scratching culture. Corporate and union leaders siphoned off millions of dollars — some of which was meant for a training center — to pay for Rolex watches and lavish personal travel and meals.
In its lawsuit, G.M. claims that the corruption went far beyond garden-variety embezzlement and personal enrichment. The company argues that the illegal activity was authorized by Fiat Chrysler’s chief executive at the time, Sergio Marchionne, and helped Fiat Chrysler win union acceptance of cost concessions that were denied to G.M. in labor contracts in 2011 and 2015. The suit also contends that Fiat Chrysler executives bribed union leaders to win support for Fiat Chrysler’s highly public effort to pressure G.M. into a merger in 2015.
The suit is not the first legal battle in the auto industry, or even the first one between G.M. and Fiat. In the 1990s, G.M. tangled with Volkswagen after that company hired a key G.M. executive, who took confidential cost-cutting data with him. In 2005, after a legal battle, Mr. Marchionne, who died in 2018, forced G.M. to pay Fiat $2 billion after a partnership in which the companies jointly produced engines and transmissions in Europe soured.
G.M. said on Wednesday that it would seek billions of dollars in damages, without giving a specific amount. The suit names Fiat Chrysler and the three convicted former executives as defendants, but no current Fiat executives.
Fiat Chrysler “was able to obtain unique advantages, different and distinct, and in fact denied to G.M.,” Craig Glidden, G.M.’s general counsel, said during a conference call with reporters.
In a statement, Fiat Chrysler said it was “astonished” by the lawsuit and suggested that it was timed to disrupt the company’s contract negotiations with the U.A.W. and a proposed merger with Peugeot SA, the French automaker. “We intend to vigorously defend against this meritless lawsuit and pursue all legal remedies in response to it,” the company said.
G.M.’s complaint, filed in the United States District Court in Detroit, is based on findings from a broad investigation into corruption at the U.A.W. In 2017, federal investigators revealed that Fiat Chrysler’s head of labor relations, Alphons Iacobelli, had allowed union officials to put personal expenses and travel on credit cards linked to a training center funded by the company. Those union officials included General Holiefield, who led U.A.W. negotiations with Fiat Chrysler from 2008 until 2015. Prosecutors said Mr. Iacobelli approved $1.2 million in spending by Mr. Holiefield and his wife.
Mr. Iacobelli used training center funds himself, including to buy a $350,000 Ferrari and pay for renovations at his home in Rochester Hills, Mich., an affluent Detroit suburb. Mr. Iacobelli pleaded guilty in 2018 and was sentenced to five and a half years in prison. Mr. Holiefield died in 2015 before any charges were filed in the case. His wife, Monica Morgan, pleaded guilty in 2018 and received an 18-month prison sentence. Mr. Holiefield’s successor, Norwood Jewell, was sentenced in August to 15 months in prison in connection with the case.
Mr. Iacobelli, and two other Fiat Chrysler executives who pleaded guilty to charges connected to the corruption inquiry, Jerome Durden and Michael Brown, were named as defendants in the G.M. suit. In his plea agreement, Mr. Iacobelli said he authorized $1.5 million in spending by U.A.W. officials in an effort to curry favor from the union in contract negotiations.
G.M.’s lawsuit claims the improper use of union money influenced contract negotiations between Fiat Chrysler and the U.A.W. in 2009, 2011 and 2015. It contends the union allowed Fiat Chrysler to hire more new and temporary workers at entry-level wages than it allowed G.M., giving Fiat Chrysler a cost advantage. The union also helped Fiat Chrysler cut costs further by supporting an overhaul of its manufacturing process, and backed Mr. Marchionne’s plan to merge with G.M., a deal that would most likely have resulted in the loss of thousands of union jobs.
G.M. did not sue the union, which recently reached a new agreement with G.M. after a 40-day strike and is in the middle of negotiating a new contract with Fiat Chrysler. But the union has been thrown into turmoil by the broader federal investigation of corruption by its top officials. The cases brought by the Justice Department have angered many union members who feel that some of their leaders have forsaken workers’ interests and are only looking out for themselves.
The autoworkers union said in a statement that it was “confident” that the terms of its contracts with Fiat Chrysler were not affected by “Iacobelli’s misconduct nor that of any U.A.W. officials involved in the misuse of Joint Program funds at F.C.A.”
Just a few hours after that statement, the union issued a second statement saying that its board was seeking to remove its president, Gary Jones, and another official, Vance Pearson, for the “submission of false, misleading and inaccurate expense records.”
But a lawyer for Mr. Jones, J. Bruce Maffeo, said in a statement that Mr. Jones had decided to resign as president and retire from the union before he learned that the U.A.W. board was seeking his ouster.
Mr. Jones has not been charged by the Justice Department but has come under scrutiny as federal prosecutors have found union officials from a regional office he previously headed charged more than a million dollars in luxury travel and personal spending to the union. Mr. Jones went on a leave of absence this month after the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided his home in August. The Justice Department charged Mr. Pearson with conspiring to embezzle U.A.W. funds.
For the auto industry and for autoworkers, this is already a precarious moment. After several years of strong growth, sales are slowing in the United States and China and automakers need to invest billions of dollars into electric cars and autonomous vehicles, widely viewed as the industry’s future. G.M.’s recent agreement with the U.A.W. allows it to permanently close three idled plants in the United States.
Barring a settlement, G.M.’s lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler could take years to resolve and could reveal details about the inner workings of both companies.
The lawsuit could represent a significant challenge for Fiat Chrysler, said Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan who follows the auto industry. “This is not just G.M. trying to throw a log into the works of a competitor,” he said.
But Professor Gordon added that it might be difficult for G.M. to prove its allegations in court. “They have to show G.M. got a different deal with the union because of the illegal payments that were going on with Fiat Chrysler,” he said. “It could be tough to get a jury to connect those dots.”
G.M. might find it hard to prove that it has suffered from Fiat Chrysler’s actions because G.M. has done quite well financially over the last 10 years. The company has often reported higher profit margins than Fiat Chrysler in North America, where the companies are direct competitors. In several recent quarters, however, Fiat Chrysler has reported North American profit margins of more than 10 percent, about the same as G.M.
Shares of G.M. fell about 3 percent on Wednesday, and Fiat Chrysler stock ended 3.7 percent lower.
GRÜNHEIDE, Germany — The visitors from Palo Alto, Calif., were shown how Berlin, a hive of tech start-ups that likens itself to Silicon Valley, is just a short commute away.
They were promised building permits in four weeks rather than the customary 11 months.
And they were taken aloft in a 44-year-old Russian biplane for a leisurely tour of the site.
And it worked. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, decided to build the carmaker’s first major European factory in Grünheide, a village just outside Berlin and surrounded by undeveloped tracts.
Mr. Musk made the announcement during seemingly impromptu remarks at an automotive awards ceremony in Berlin last week.
But the decision was months in the making, involving an elaborate courtship by local officials eager to attract not only the jobs that Tesla would bring — an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 within two years and eventually as many as 7,000 — but also the prestige. Somehow, the officials managed to keep the negotiations secret until Mr. Musk sprang the news.
A lot of things could still go wrong. Tesla, which has opposed unionization at its plant in Fremont, Calif., may chafe at German labor laws that give workers a say in management and limit overtime. Environmental groups may object to manufacturing on land near a nature preserve. The notoriously unpredictable Mr. Musk could change his mind.
Still, the decision was hugely significant for Germany, where cars are the biggest export and the backbone of the economy.
The news has temporarily quieted rising alarm that the German auto industry faces serious disruption from a transition to battery-powered cars like those made by Tesla.
A recent government study concluded that the switch to electric vehicles could cost Germany 114,000 jobs by 2035 and shave 0.6 percent from its gross domestic product. That is because electric cars have fewer moving parts and are simpler to make.
In addition, battery cells are made almost exclusively outside Germany and must be imported. German suppliers of parts for internal combustion engines, like pistons, ignition systems or emissions control equipment, face declines in sales.
Tesla’s assembly plant would offset some of the job losses, and the company also plans to build batteries in Germany.
Based in Palo Alto, Tesla has already been taking market share from the German manufacturers BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars. The Tesla Model 3 has become best-selling battery-powered car in Europe, a segment that is small but growing fast.
With Tesla near Berlin, the established German carmakers “will have a better view of what Tesla is doing,” said Felipe Munoz, a senior analyst at the market research firm JATO Dynamics. “They will need to accelerate their electrification plans.”
Tesla did not respond this week to requests for comment, but Mr. Musk indicated that one attraction of Germany was its automaking tradition and deep pool of engineering expertise. That could be a reason he did not choose a country like Poland or the Czech Republic, where labor costs are much lower.
Tesla is ahead of the German carmakers in designing electric cars that people want to buy, but Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen can teach it a lot about how to churn out cars by the millions. While Tesla has had well-documented problems scaling up its manufacturing, Volkswagen has just begun mass producing an electric hatchback in Zwickau that will undercut the Model 3 on price.
“Some of the best cars in the world are made in Germany,” Mr. Musk said while appearing at an industry event in Berlin last week alongside Herbert Diess, the chief executive of Volkswagen. “Everyone knows that German engineering is outstanding, for sure.”
The state of Brandenburg, which includes Grünheide and was once part of East Germany, was a long shot to win the Tesla plant. The center of gravity of the German auto industry is in the southern states of Bavaria, home of BMW, and Baden-Württemberg, home of Daimler. Brandenburg, on the other hand, is known by some as the home of Berlin’s new airport, whose construction has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns and is seven years behind schedule.
The local effort to persuade Tesla officials was led by Jörg Steinbach, the economics minister of Brandenburg and a member of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party. He set out to prove that the sometimes ponderous state bureaucracy could move at Silicon Valley speed, and he was the one who promised the expedited permits.
Mr. Steinbach also chartered the Antonov biplane to sell executives on the virtues of the proposed factory site. (The plane seats up to 12 people, and Antonovs are maneuverable enough to be used as crop dusters.) It helped that the site had already been approved for a factory that BMW decided to build in Leipzig instead.
Arne Christiani, the mayor of Grünheide, said officials had strained to be helpful because they hoped the factory would lure back working-age people who had left for the cities. He joked that Teslas could be rolling off the assembly line sooner than planes begin taking off from Berlin’s much-delayed new airport.
“We’ve been making bets on what happens first,” he said.
There was a tense moment when, during a conference call between German officials and Tesla executives, it emerged that Mr. Musk was under the impression that the site was in Berlin proper.
“I told him, ‘Well, not quite,’” Mr. Steinbach recalled. “‘It’s actually in Brandenburg.’”
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, Berlin has spawned a thriving arts and start-up scene. It was obviously important to Mr. Musk to be there, Mr. Steinbach said, noting that the plant would be called Gigafactory Berlin in the Greater Berlin Region.
On Nov. 12, Mr. Musk met with the team from Brandenburg in the Hotel Adlon, which once stood in the shadow of the Berlin Wall and is freighted with history. Tesla and the local officials signed a one-and-a-half page letter of intent. Hours later, Mr. Musk delivered the news while receiving a Golden Steering Wheel award from the Bild newspaper.
“I actually have an announcement, which I think will be hopefully well received,” Mr. Musk said from the stage. “We’ve decided to put the Tesla Gigafactory Europe in the Berlin area.” The audience gasped and applauded.
Questions remain, particularly about how Tesla’s high-intensity, 24/7 work ethic will adapt to Germany, where factory managers are expected to consult with employee representatives before making major decisions.
“The labor laws are distinctly different here,” said Olivier Höbel, head of the IG Metall union in Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony, which represents autoworkers.
But he added, “We are very happy about the decision.” The union will work with Tesla, he said, “to create the perfect climate that the project becomes a full success.”
Christopher F. Schuetze reported from Grünheide, and Jack Ewing from Frankfurt.
Google’s work with IRI is the latest evidence of escalation in a feud between a group of activist workers at Google and management that has tested the limits of the company’s traditionally transparent, worker-friendly culture. Since Google was founded two decades ago, employees had been able to ask management tough questions at weekly meetings, and anyone who worked there could look through documents related to almost any company activity.
That Google hired a consulting firm known for its anti-union work is a surprising turn in Silicon Valley. Union organization — even labor unrest — has traditionally been rare among big tech companies because their employees have usually been treated and paid well. Google, in particular, has been known for its perks, like free meals and shuttle buses to the office.
There does not appear to be any serious effort underway at Google to create a formally certified union, but employers sometimes bring in firms like IRI to pre-empt unionization amid widespread discontent among workers.
Last fall, Google employees around the world walked out to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment complaints. And discussions on the company’s internal message boards have at times turned into contentious debates about politics or company policies that have become public embarrassments.
Google recently cracked down on some of those discussions and limited how much employees can peer into the work of others. Last week, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, announced that Google was making its free-flowing weekly all-hands meetings — a hallmark of its open culture — into monthly affairs with restrictions on what can be discussed.
Google employees stumbled upon the company’s relationship with IRI in October, according to two employees familiar with the discovery, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the fear of retaliation. They unearthed internal calendar entries indicating that Google had hired IRI, according to screenshots shared with The New York Times.
Chloe Cooper, a Google spokeswoman, said the company engaged “dozens of outside firms to provide us with their advice on a wide range of topics.” IRI did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
At the time of the discovery, Google had recently installed a tool on employees’ web browsers that would flag internal calendar events requiring more than 10 meeting rooms or 100 participants.
Many employees believed that the so-called browser extension, which was first reported by Bloomberg, was a surveillance tool designed to crack down on organizing among workers. The company said at the time that it simply wanted to reduce internal spam and that the tool did not collect personally identifiable information.
To learn more about the extension and a calendar policy change that the tool would reinforce, employees began to search the calendar of the Google human resources official who had requested the policy change, according to the two employees knowledgeable about the situation.
While searching that official’s calendar, which was open to other Google employees at the time, these employees discovered that she had been part of a group of Google human resources, legal and communications officials who for months had been invited to meetings with officials from IRI, according to the two employees.
They noticed that the group had a meeting scheduled only a few hours before the human resources official requested the change in calendar policy. The Times obtained screenshots of portions of the official’s calendar and two posts on an internal ticketing system discussing the change.
Asked whether IRI advised the company on these matters, Ms. Cooper, the Google spokeswoman, said that “to suggest this particular firm had anything whatsoever to do with the recent calendar extension — or any internal policies whatsoever — is absolutely false.”
Google employees have chafed for months at what they said was a series of moves by management designed to make it harder for them to confront the company, whether it was over government contracts they objected to, or policies like its handling of sexual harassment, the issue that triggered last year’s walkout.
In August, the company handed down new “community guidelines” that prohibited employees from insulting one another on internal forums and “disrupting the workday to have a raging debate over politics or the latest news story.” Many employees saw it as a way to stifle the internal debate that had long defined the company.
Then, this month, two Google employees were placed on administrative leave over possible violations of company rules. According to a memo circulated internally and obtained by CNBC, some employees believed the administrative leave was a form of retaliation because the two suspended workers had engaged in activism at the company.
Google said one of the employees had searched for, gained access to and shared sensitive documents, though other employees have questioned the documents’ sensitivity. The company said the second suspended employee had set up email alerts to track the calendars of several Google officials, which made them feel unsafe, but did not say that setting up such alerts broke company rules.
Mr. Pichai’s announcement about the staff meetings came on the heels of a particularly contentious meeting last month when employees challenged management about the browser extension and the hiring of a former Department of Homeland Security official, who had defended a version of the White House’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries.
In leaked audio of the meeting, reported earlier by The Washington Post, Mr. Pichai said that Google was struggling with how to adapt the principles of openness to a global behemoth with more than 100,000 employees and a roughly equivalent number of contractors.
Last month, Google management in Zurich caused an uproar when it tried to cancel an employee discussion about unionization and proposed its own discussion about labor laws and employee rights. In September, a small group of contractors that work for Google voted to unionize with the United Steelworkers.
Some Google employees oppose their colleagues’ organizing efforts and believe that Mr. Pichai hasn’t gone far enough in reining in the chaos that they say the organizers have created. And most Google employees, even those active in efforts to organize co-workers, appear to be skeptical of trying to create a formally certified union.
Still, many appear to favor creating some kind of worker organization, and thousands continue to engage in collective action, like signing a petition in August urging the company not to enter a forthcoming competition for a contract with the Customs and Border Protection agency, which it had indicated an interest in pursuing.
Meredith Whittaker, a walkout organizer who left the company in July after 13 years, said the hiring of IRI showed that Google had “begun to do what most large companies and bosses do, which is figure out how to fight worker power using a fairly routine bag of union-busting tricks.”
Ms. Whittaker added that all the recent policy changes and actions that affected workers’ ability to organize “need to be read through the light of hiring a firm that specializes in busting worker organizations and discrediting organizers.”
Google said IRI did not participate in any of the recent high-profile policy changes, but would not elaborate on the work it did.
A detailed public account of IRI’s involvement in a past union campaign, at the Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut in 2006, shows that the firm prepared a training manual more than 30 pages long for managers at the hospital, on such topics as how to cast the union in a negative light.
In one passage of the manual, which was obtained by the Yale Daily News and whose authenticity was confirmed by a hospital spokesman at the time, the document instructed managers to speak to employees about the history of Mafia influence and corruption in organized labor.
According to an arbitrator’s report on the case from October 2007, IRI and the hospital created six teams, a number of which included both consultants and hospital officials and met biweekly or weekly.
John Logan, an expert on anti-union consultants at San Francisco State University, said it was difficult to determine the effectiveness of firms like IRI because employers often kept these relationships secret and could deploy the same tactics even without hiring consultants. But, he said, the tactics tend to work.
“There are so many things an employer can do that have devastating impact on the likely success of an organizing campaign,” Mr. Logan said. “In that sense, there’s no question they’re effective.”
In the climactic scene of “Toy Story 3,” Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the crew narrowly escape death when a remote-controlled claw lifts them from an incinerator just before flames engulf them.
Now Burger King is set to enact an alternative ending — collecting, sorting and chopping up hundreds of thousands of tiny toys, before melting them into hot plastic at a factory in northern England.
To anyone with childhood memories of beloved action figures, this may sound like an act of carnage — more Dante’s “Inferno” than Disney Pixar. But the “meltdown” is intended as a grand environmental gesture. Faced with growing public concern over the proliferation of single-use plastic, Burger King has vowed to stop giving away plastic toys with children’s meals in Britain and has encouraged customers to deposit old toys in collection bins at the chain’s locations there.
In December, the recycling firm Pentatonic will melt those orphaned action figures, then turn the raw material into playground equipment and reusable tray tables. Burger King plans to eliminate non-biodegradable toys from all its restaurants worldwide by 2025.
“That might be a shame for a tiny minority of people,” said Alasdair Murdoch, the chief executive of Burger King in the United Kingdom. “But it’s very clear that long term, people think that we’re doing the right thing.”
For decades, fast-food toys have operated as marketing tools designed to get children eating French fries and Chicken McNuggets. Politicians and public health advocates in the United States have repeatedly tried to ban them, arguing that fast-food marketing aimed at children contributes to obesity.
Those health concerns never swayed the major fast-food companies, but a viral British petition arguing that the toys “harm animals and pollute the sea” has made a stronger impression. It’s part of a growing public backlash against single-use, disposable plastic items like straws and cups, as well as myriad other plastic objects piling up in landfills, littering beaches and floating in oceans.
Burger King is not the only chain contemplating a toyless future. In 2018, McDonald’s established a task force to explore “ways to lessen the impact of the toys,” according to Elaine Strunk, the chain’s director of sustainability.
Based on the task force’s recommendations, McDonald’s has moved to scale back the distribution of plastic toys in Britain and other markets outside the United States, although it has stopped short of pledging to discontinue them. In October, McDonald’s offered its British customers Happy Meals with a choice of a toy or a bag of fruit.
Next year, children at its British locations will be able to choose between a toy or a book. In the past, McDonald’s has handed out Roald Dahl books, as well as stories about dinosaurs by the English author Cressida Cowell.
“We are on a journey across all of our categories and then beyond to make more sustainable environmental footprints,” Ms. Strunk said. “It’s always a lens through which we look at decisions we’re making.”
But environmental experts say it’s not clear whether eliminating plastic toys would meaningfully advance plastic reduction efforts in the fast-food industry, let alone make a dent in the broader pollution problem.
Burger King has said ending distribution of the toys in Britain would reduce its annual plastic footprint by more than 300 tons. But the context for that number is unclear: Burger King has not calculated the total amount of plastic it uses across its global markets, according to its chief marketing officer, Fernando Machado. And at some restaurants in the United States, Burger King continues to serve drinks in foam cups, even as McDonald’s and other chains have banned the environmentally harmful products.
McDonald’s officials said the company was still working out an effective way to calculate its overall plastic footprint and declined to reveal the volume of plastic toys it distributes each year.
“If you’re a company like Burger King whose packaging is seen as a big part of the problem, it doesn’t make sense to act on the toys but not on your packaging,” said Conrad MacKerron, who helps run As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy group that has pushed major fast-food companies to cut down on plastic. “The company seems to be trying to impose a certain priority on this which I don’t think is necessarily merited.”
Mr. Machado said Burger King planned to eliminate foam cups soon. And in the coming months, he said, the company will publish a website detailing the steps it has taken to reduce pollution.
“We’re not sitting here on any level saying that we are perfect,” said Mr. Murdoch, Burger King’s chief in the United Kingdom. “We’re on a journey, and we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re pretty keen on it.”
For years, McDonald’s and Burger King have resisted attempts to regulate the distribution of plastic toys, which began proliferating in the 1980s. The toys have proved to be powerful marketing devices. A study by researchers at Dartmouth found that knowledge of fast-food toys among young children “was associated with greater frequency of eating at McDonald’s.”
“It’s been a pretty important part of the business model of the companies that use them,” said Joel Bakan, the author of “Childhood Under Siege,” a 2011 book about marketing efforts aimed at children. “Both the packaging of the Happy Meal and the addition of the toy to it was highly effective in reaching children.”
In 2010, legislators in San Francisco voted to bar fast-food restaurants from giving away toys with children’s meals that fell short of nutritional standards, arguing that the figurines promoted unhealthy eating. But McDonald’s got around the ban on giveaways by charging 10 cents for each toy.
Now, rising environmental concerns over plastic waste appear to be succeeding where the obesity argument failed. And fast-food chains have grown increasingly focused on digital marketing tools, such as giving children scannable codes that can unlock games on branded apps, making plastic figurines less crucial to attracting younger customers.
“Maybe this is not the key for them anymore,” said Sara Ribakove, a policy official at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has campaigned against fast-food toys. “There’s a strong shift in the digital environment and the way we’re seeing marketing. It’s become much more personalized. It’s coming to everyone’s doorstep in a different way.”
Over the next few years, Burger King will gradually replace plastic toys with digital alternatives, company executives said, though the chain could also develop toys made from biodegradable materials.
A handful of other fast-food chains have scrapped the toys for commercial rather than environmental reasons. In 2013, Taco Bell announced that children’s meals would not be a part of its “long-term brand strategy.” Jack in the Box stopped giving away toys in 2011, saying, “We focus on adults and not children.”
But the major rival of McDonald’s and Burger King, Wendy’s, continues to offer the plastic figurines. Recently, the chain rolled out a line of Transformers toys. A Wendy’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
McDonald’s has experimented with toy alternatives in a number of markets, including Germany and France as well as Britain. In Japan, McDonald’s allows customers to return toys so the company can convert them into trays, a project similar to Burger King’s initiative in Britain. In the coming years, McDonald’s officials said, the company expects to distribute fewer plastics toys, as books and other alternatives become more popular.
“It’s all about choice,” said Kandice McLeod, a McDonald’s official who oversees Happy Meal toys. “Our customers want to know that they have a choice in what they’re going to receive.”
In the United States, however, one crucial constituency appears to remain broadly supportive of plastic toys: children.
On a recent Sunday night at a McDonald’s in Brooklyn, 8-year-old Amber Smith sat quietly, playing with the miniature Pokeball that had come with her Happy Meal. As far back as she can remember, she said, fast-food toys have been her favorite part of McDonald’s.
“All the toys, in my opinion, are super awesome,” she said. “I’m not picky with the toys.”
Asked about the prospect of a toyless Happy Meal, Amber balled her hands into fists. “I like the food, too,” she said. But without the toys, “I’d make a tantrum.”
A bill compelling the United States to support pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong could arrive on President Trump’s desk as soon as Thursday morning, potentially complicating the administration’s talks with China to end the trade war.
The bill, passed by the Senate on Tuesday, would require the government to impose sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in the territory. On Wednesday, the House passed the Senate version 417-1, sending it to the White House.
If signed into law by Mr. Trump, the bill will also require the State Department to annually review the special autonomous status it grants Hong Kong in trade considerations. That status is separate from the relationship with mainland China, and a revocation of the status would mean less favorable trade conditions between the United States and Hong Kong.
The Senate passed the bill, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, by unanimous consent. The House had previously passed its own version unanimously, but gave assent to the Senate version in order to expedite the legislation. On the House floor on Wednesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out on human rights elsewhere.”
Because the bill, in theory, has the support of a veto-proof majority in Congress, it could be enacted even if Mr. Trump vetoes it. And its enactment would most likely strain relations with China at a delicate moment in the trade negotiations.
Eswar Prasad, the former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division, said the injection of Hong Kong into the trade process could derail the talks with China, which is notoriously sensitive about outside political interference.
“The legislation will further fuel the narrative in Chinese domestic policy circles that the U.S. is attempting to infringe on the sovereignty of China in terms of its internal economic and political affairs,” Mr. Prasad said.
Although Mr. Trump announced last month that the United States and China had reached a “historic” so-called phase one trade agreement, signing a deal has proved elusive. The two sides continue to negotiate and could achieve a deal in the next few weeks. But Mr. Trump has given mixed signals about whether he wants a deal.
“I haven’t wanted to do it yet because I don’t think they’ve stepped up,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday afternoon while touring an Apple manufacturing facility in Texas.
The United States and China have been grappling over the fate of tariffs that Mr. Trump imposed on $360 billion of Chinese imports and additional tariffs that are due to be imposed on Dec. 15. China wants all of the tariffs rolled back as part of an agreement in which it would buy as much as $50 billion of American agricultural products a year and begin to open its markets to American companies.
Mr. Trump, however, is reluctant to scale back all the tariffs, and his advisers remain skeptical that China will live up to its commitments.
Henrietta Treyz, director of economic policy at the investment firm Veda Partners, said that the Hong Kong legislation raised the odds that the December tariffs will be imposed. She pointed to a series of caustic posts on Twitter written by the editor of The Global Times, a Chinese state-controlled publication, warning American farmers that the deal Mr. Trump promised them was not yet complete.
“Tensions are rising between the two nations, not dissipating,” Ms. Treyz said. “The prospect of not reaching a deal and requiring escalation from here remains quite real.”
The possibility that the Hong Kong bill could be signed into law has shaken the confidence of Wall Street analysts who had become increasingly optimistic in recent weeks that tariffs could be rolled back as part of the first phase of a trade deal.
Economists at Goldman Sachs said in a note to clients this week that the Hong Kong legislation was a potential “complication,” warning that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had promised “strong countermeasures” if such a bill were enacted.
Still, the trade talks have continued over the last year despite several spikes in tension between the United States and China, including the arrest of the Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou in Canada and the sale of 66 F-16s to Taiwan this summer.
While Mr. Trump’s advisers debate how much tariff relief to offer in the first phase of a trade deal, similar debates are playing out in China. The fact that the United States is weighing in so forcefully on Hong Kong is most likely exacerbating that internal tension.
“There’s an ongoing debate in Beijing between reformers who would like phase one and hard-liners who see themselves surrounded by hostile forces led by the United States, including in Hong Kong,” said Michael Pillsbury, a China scholar at the Hudson Institute who advises the Trump administration.
Ed Wong and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.