California may have been the site of innovation during Tesla's early years, but in 2021, both CEO Elon Musk and the company dug their Austin roots deeper.
With Giga Texas on the brink of production, here are some of the year's highlights for Tesla.
At the start of 2021, Tesla's newest gigafactory in southeast Travis County barely had the exterior structure of its 7.9-million-square-foot factory up after starting construction in late 2020. Now, almost a year later, the first phase is just about complete with office space and a Model Y quality control room.
Throughout the year, key updates were made. In April, Tesla filed plans for an additional building at the factory to be part of the “Bobcat Project.” And in July, Musk made a Q2 update from the factory, boasting more than $1 billion in quarterly net income and production of more than 200,000 vehicles.
Then in early October, Musk confirmed Tesla would move its headquarters from the Fremont, California factory to Austin. The move became official at the start of this month, with one analyst suggesting up to 50% of the 10,000 employees there may make the move to Austin.
But besides transplants, the factory has driven record job growth by joining a host of other companies that have promised to relocate or expand in Austin.
Additionally, Tesla added a new 30,000 square-foot showroom in South Austin that opened this fall.
Perhaps one of the most eyed product developments is the production of the Model Y at Giga Texas, with Musk seeming hopeful about demand. Musk has said the Model Y—Tesla's midsize SUV, which starts at $46,690—will be "the best selling car or truck in the world" by next year. Giga Texas is expected to start volume production in 2022.
Another anticipated product, the Cybertruck, has faced its fair share of delays. The futuristic truck, which Tesla recently removed pricing and specs for on its website, is expected to be mass-produced in 2023.
Additionally, the affordable Model 3 and Tesla Semi will be produced at the Austin factory in time.
And outside Giga Texas production, the first Tesla Solar neighborhood—dubbed the nation's most sustainable residential community—will be built in Easton Park, a master-planned community in far Southeast Austin near McKinney Falls State Park. The newly built homes will feature Tesla solar roof tiles and Powerwall battery storage as well as electric vehicle charging stations.
It also expanded its merch in Texas-style with a Giga Texas belt buckle that sold out in less than 24 hours. This year also brought news of a Tesla eatery, Tesla beer, a mega battery for the Texas grid and even the company’s interest in selling electricity.
Tesla hired thousands to build its local factory and has made big promises to recruit local residents, saying at least half of the Gigafactory hires will be Travis County residents.
Musk has since updated his plans for the factory, saying it will result in 20,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs rather than the initial 10,000 workers that were slated for the site.
However this works out, the company is making some local investments to ensure a trained workforce. Earlier this year, Tesla kicked off a manufacturing program for Austin Community College students, aimed at helping them earn certifications with both in-class lessons and lab experience. High school students can also get their start in the EV industry, with a partnership between Tesla and Del Valle school district creating a path for gigafactory jobs.
While EV competitor Rivian made an impressive market debut with the biggest American Initial Public Offering since Facebook, Tesla’s stock also showed promise this year. In October, Tesla hit the $1 trillion market cap for the first time, after which its stock shot up to more than $1,045 a share. Shares climbed 50% this year, and in the new year, it's expected to see a 28% gain.
Time crowned Musk person of the year, noting the societal shift wrought by billionaires and their companies, with Musk as the richest (his current net worth is $266 billion). At the start of January, Musk became the richest person in the world, surpassing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. But the two have been neck and neck for the title, and Musk reclaimed it again in September after an Amazon stock decline.
Come summer, he cracked some jokes and became the first non-entertainer or athlete to host SNL in five years. Shortly after, in the summer Musk celebrated his birthday week with flights on his private jet from Austin to Boca Chica and to San Jose.
He’s been discreet about his housing, even while public speculation has run high. Still, he’s offered crumbs of information. In the summer, he talked about his tiny home in Boca Chica, Texas, near Starbase. But last week, the Wall Street Journal published a story on his reportedly temporary dwellings in Austin. The newspaper wrote that he lived in the home of billionaire friend and former PayPal colleague Ken Howery, which Musk denied.
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The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion, Friday morning. Moments later, Austin City Council set a special meeting for next month to pass a resolution aimed at decriminalizing abortion.
The GRACE Act, which stands for guarding the right to abortion care for everyone, is a twofold plan submitted by council member Jose “Chito” Vela. It recommends that city funds shouldn’t be used to surveil, catalog, report or investigate abortions. It also recommends that police make investigating abortion their lowest priority.
Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, who co-sponsored the resolution along with council members Paige Ellis, Kathie Tovo and Mayor Steve Adler, said the importance of the GRACE Act cannot be overstated.
“By introducing this resolution during a special session, City Council is doubling down on fighting back for reproductive health,” Fuentes said. “Items like the GRACE Act will promote essential healthcare while enabling individuals to exercise their bodily freedom.”
In a press release, Vela said the Texas state government has a history of overturning municipal protections of human rights. Thirty days after the Supreme Court’s ruling, Texas will ban all abortions, with exceptions only to save the life of a pregnant patient or prevent “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”
Still, Vela expressed hope for the GRACE Act’s longevity. Council’s special meeting on it is set for the week of July 18.
“We know this resolution is legally sound, and Austin is not alone in this fight,” Vela said. “We are working with several other cities who are equally horrified by the prospect of an abortion ban and want to do everything they can to protect their residents.”
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By Eleanor Klibanoff
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional protection for abortion and allowing states to set their own laws regulating the procedure. This represents one of the most significant judicial reversals in a generation and is expected to have far-reaching consequences for all Texans.
Texas will ban all abortions from the moment of fertilization, starting 30 days after the ruling, with narrow exceptions only to save the life of a pregnant patient or prevent “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”
The law that will go into effect in 30 days criminalizes the person who performs the abortion, not the person who undergoes the procedure.
This ruling will radically change the reproductive health care landscape in Texas and the entire nation, where more than half of all states are expected to essentially ban abortion in the coming months.
Most of Texas’ neighboring states are also expected to outlaw abortion as a result of this ruling, with one exception: New Mexico. As the sole outlier in the region, New Mexico is expected to become a haven for Texans seeking abortions. The state currently has no significant restrictions and no plans to limit access to the procedure.
Friday’s ruling represents a victory nearly five decades in the making for Texas’ anti-abortion advocates, who have played an outsized role in the national effort to overturn Roe v. Wade.
It also represents a crushing blow to the state’s abortion providers, who have fought to maintain abortion access in Texas amid a nearly endless parade of restrictions, limitations and political attacks.
Roe v. Wade’s Texas roots
Before it became one of the most well-known Supreme Court cases in the country, Roe v. Wade was just a Texas lawsuit.
More than five decades ago, a woman identified in the legal filings as Jane Roe, later revealed to be Norma McCorvey, wanted an abortion. But under Texas’ laws at the time, it was a crime to perform or “furnish the means for procuring” an abortion.
Two young female lawyers, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, saw an opportunity to use McCorvey’s case to challenge Texas’ abortion law more broadly. They filed a suit against Dallas County prosecutor Henry Wade, who would be the one responsible for bringing charges against anyone who violated the abortion law.
The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun shocked the nation with a ruling that blocked not just Texas’ abortion laws from being enforced, but all state laws that banned abortion early in pregnancy.
Blackmun agreed with Coffee and Weddington’s argument that the right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution extended to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. That right to privacy must be balanced with the state’s interest in the “potentiality of human life,” a balance that shifted in the state’s favor the further along a woman was into her pregnancy.
This ruling did little to settle the abortion debate in the United States, instead kicking off nearly five decades of anti-abortion activism and legal challenges seeking to overturn the decision.
Texas, the birthplace of Roe v. Wade, has led many of those legal challenges, including a landmark 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld Roe v. Wade and the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
But the Supreme Court has become much more conservative in recent years, thanks to three appointments by former President Donald J. Trump.
In late 2021, the court declined to block a Texas law that banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy through a novel enforcement mechanism that empowers private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” in an abortion.
That law remains in effect and will not be immediately impacted by Friday’s ruling.
In December, the court heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson, a challenge to Mississippi’s law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Rather than considering just the law itself, the court agreed to consider the question of whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned — and today’s ruling gave the answer.
Ongoing legal questions
But if Roe v. Wade did little to end the debate about abortion in the United States, Dobbs v. Jackson is not expected to settle the question either.
Health care providers are worrying about how these laws will impact their ability to provide care for high-risk pregnancies or people experiencing miscarriages. Some local district attorneys have said that they won’t prosecute abortion cases in their jurisdictions.
One such challenge is already looming, as state Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican from Deer Park, has made it clear he intends to target nonprofit advocacy groups that help pregnant patients pay for abortions.
Under the current law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, these abortion funds have helped hundreds of pregnant people leave the state to get an abortion. They’ve paid for travel, lodging, child care and the procedure itself, and they’re preparing for a surge in demand now that abortion is further restricted.
But Cain, an anti-abortion legislator, has issued cease-and-desist letters to these groups, warning that their work may be criminalized under the state laws that were on the books before 1973.
That argument didn’t carry much weight when Roe v. Wade was in effect. Now, legal experts say this may represent the first of many legal questions that will need to be sorted out by the courts as the state begins to navigate an entirely new reproductive health care landscape.