Inside Elon Musk’s big, weird Texas party: Music, robots — and even a petting zoo

AUSTIN, Texas – Awash in lights, music and futuristic technology, the giant party put on Thursday by Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk did its best to live up to the hype created during the run-up to the “Cyber Rodeo” celebration of its arrival in Austin, which has become the automaker’s center of operations.

The invitation-only event served as a grand opening and public unveiling of Tesla’s new $1.1 billion manufacturing facility in Travis County, which is also now home to the company’s corporate headquarters.

As many as 15,000 people were expected to attend the event, which offered all manner of attractions, along with a peek inside the manufacturing facility for those lucky enough to score admission.

Those who did make it found some expected sights – Tesla cars in various stages of development and the robots who help make them, for example – but they also encountered a large, open warehouse with a bar and a wide and unusual selection of amusements. There was live music, carnival games, drink and snack stations, at least half a dozen food trucks, dancers on rollerblades – and even a mechanical bull, a  tattoo parlor and a petting zoo. 

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Shortly after 9 p.m., Musk – the world’s wealthiest person, with an estimated net worth of about $280 billion, according to Forbes magazine – took the stage to cheers from the crowd.

Calling the Austin facility “the largest factory building in the world by volume” and the “most advanced car factory the world has ever seen,” Musk praised the Tesla team that built the facility and said “Thank you, Austin, and thank you, Travis County.”

“Why Austin? California’s great and we were continuing to expand there, but we ran out of room,” Musk said. “We need a place where we can be really big, and there’s no place like Texas.”

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Musk also for the first time confirmed that Tesla is building its battery cells at the Austin facility and said: “We think, over time, this will be the biggest cell factory in the world.”

Musk also said Tesla has already started delivering to customers the first Tesla vehicles made in Texas.

While Tesla and Musk had made clear in recent weeks that the “Cyber Rodeo” was an invitation-only event, that didn’t deter wannabe attendees hoping to somehow get in.

At one point in the late afternoon, dozens of Tesla fans and members of the media – some of them from out of state, all without invites – lined up along the edge of the company’s property in Southeast Travis County.

The celebration comes not quite two years after Musk announced in July 2020 that Tesla had selected a site in southeastern Travis County to build its new facility, which Musk has said could eventually employ up to 10,000 people. Construction moved swiftly on the plant, and Tesla confirmed in January that it had started to produce its Model Y SUV at the site. It also has said it eventually will produce its Cybertruck, Semi and Model 3 compact sedan there.

Thursday’s “Cyber Rodeo” event is a milestone moment for both Tesla and Austin, said Dan Ives, an analyst with Wedbush Securities.

“It’s significant. It’s a historical event for Tesla. It’s important from a production perspective with Model Y production and also doubling down on its U.S. footprint,” Ives told the American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network, this week. “Austin for Tesla is not just its headquarters for tax status. It’s where more and more of its DNA of Tesla is going to be gathered. The rodeo signifies really a new beginning for Tesla in Austin.”

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