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8/21/2014 6:00:00 AM
Kingman dreams of landing Tesla battery plant
Not everyone thinks this town is a good fit, though
With any luck, the juice from this charging station on Beale Street will go into Tesla batteries made locally, or at least in Arizona. (File photo)
With any luck, the juice from this charging station on Beale Street will go into Tesla batteries made locally, or at least in Arizona. (File photo)

Hubble Ray Smith
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - As competition intensifies for Tesla Motors' electric car battery factory, the city of Kingman is looking at throwing its hat into the ring.

Five states, including Arizona, are vying for the $5 billion plant, known as a gigafactory, that would employ 6,500 workers and supply lithium-ion batteries for Tesla's assembly plant in Fremont, Calif.

Tesla needs 500 to 1,000 acres to build the 10 million-square-foot gigafactory.

Tucson proposed land and tax abatements for Tesla and California is talking about exempting the company from restrictive environmental regulations. Coachella Valley is touting its vast supply of lithium needed for battery production. Tesla has broken ground on a site in Reno, but is still considering other cities.

"We don't need to give them land or tax abatements because as cheap as land is here, they'll create their own synergy," Kingman real estate agent Steve Wagner said. "People are going to come from all over. They're going to create their own economy being here."

Kingman is the perfect spot for Tesla with proximity to more than 30 million people in a 350-mile radius, Wagner said. As a distribution point, Kingman is served by two major highways, a railroad system and airport.

Kingman City Manager John Dougherty said he sent a letter to Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and was miffed that Musk came through Kingman earlier this year without calling him. The Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce also wrote to Musk with recruitment information.

Dougherty said he didn't see Musk at last weekend's International Route 66 Festival, but was told there were other Tesla executives in attendance.

Kingman Airport and Industrial Park would appear to be an ideal location for Tesla, but officials with the Kingman Airport Authority told Dougherty they weren't interested in bringing Tesla to the industrial park.

"It's not that we're not interested," Airport Economic Direct Bob Riley told The Miner via e-mail. "We have reviewed the Tesla project and can't recommend that we pursue it. The resources required to make the project successful are more than Kingman can provide. We are better off to support the project in an Arizona urban area and pursue suppliers to a Kingman location."

Forget about the airport, Wagner responded. Future industrial, distribution and manufacturing in Kingman will take place on land that has yet to be annexed, he said.

Some say Kingman doesn't have the skilled workforce necessary for Tesla's factory, but Dougherty said they could be trained at Mohave Community College.

"We have a workforce that would work hard for them," the city manager said. "Rail, air and highway are all there together. Every time I worked on economic development, they want one or two of those and we've got all three. We're close to Silicon Valley. Musk could hop on his jet there and be at our airport in a short time."

Kingman shouldn't give up on Tesla, Wagner said. It takes persistence to get noticed. He suggests sending Musk a brochure produced by the city.

"How about sending him and each of his board of directors one of the postcards the Economic Development Marketing Commission created for ICSC (shopping center convention) about every other day until they call you to knock it off," Wagner advised. "At least then you will have made contact."

He also suggested publicizing that Kingman is in the running for the gigafactory.

"Even if we don't get Tesla's attention, we may get three or four others interested in Kingman," Wagner said.

Emerging battery technology is key to driving forward the electric car industry, Tesla owner Tudor Melville said. Obstacles include the batteries' cost, weight and capacity.

Melville, of Tucson, displayed his $105,000 Tesla car at the Powerhouse Museum electric car exhibit during the Route 66 festival and spoke on behalf of the Tesla Owners Group at Saturday's symposium.

"Everybody's bidding for the gigafactory - Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas. The way Tesla is approaching this, I've got to believe battery costs will come down," he said.

Tesla's business partner Panasonic has said it will invest $200 million to $300 million in developing battery technology at the plant. Tesla's aim is to reduce battery costs by 30 percent and bring the price of its Model S from $75,000 to $35,000.

Melville charged his car at Tesla's Kingman Supercharger at Carl's Jr., 789 E. Beale St., one of 106 stations across the country. It took him about 25 minutes - not a full charge, but enough to get him to Phoenix.

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