Elon Musk looks like a kid who just walked into a toy factory. The 39-year-old CEO of upstart car company Tesla Motors stands on the main floor of the New United Motor Manufacturing plant and looks with awe from one giant piece of machinery to the next. The car factory, known as Nummi, is located in Fremont, California, but it’s an industrial city unto itself. It encompasses 5.5 million square feet and contains a plastics molding factory, two paint facilities, 1.5 miles of assembly lines, and a 50-megawatt power plant. Since 1984, Toyota and General Motors had run Nummi together, producing as many as 450,000 cars a year here until it was shuttered in April. Now, in a remarkable turn of events, Musk owns the place.
He seems as surprised as anyone at this development. For years, the exuberantly ambitious entrepreneur wasn’t even allowed to visit. Plant managers apparently frowned on the idea of a potential competitor touring the facility. Not that they had much to fear: In 2009, Tesla managed to produce only about 800 high-performance electric sports cars—a niche manufacturer in an industry that churns out millions of vehicles.
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