Mercedes Berlin plant head to join Tesla, union says

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FRANKFURT — The head of the Berlin engine plant run by Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz, Rene Reif, has defected to rival Tesla Inc., German union IG Metall said, calling on employees to protest his departure.

IG Metall said there would be a protest in front of the Mercedes factory on Thursday and called on Daimler to present solutions that would help guarantee the future of the plant.

“We will make clear that we see the defection of the factory manager as a betrayal,” Jan Otto, head of IG Metall Berlin, said in a statement.

The German business paper Handelsblatt said industry sources had also confirmed that Reif, 57, would join Tesla.

Reif was one the most experienced manufacturing executives at Daimler. He helped to expand manufacturing capacity for Mercedes cars in China.

He was head of engineering and manufacturing at Beijing Benz Automotive, Daimler’s Chinese joint venture, which has a capacity of 480,000 cars and started building the electric Mercedes EQC last year.

Tesla declined to comment on whether it had found a new manager for the factory it is building in Gruenheide on the outskirts of Berlin.

Last month, a source told Reuters that Evan Horetsky, a Tesla manager who oversaw the construction of the plant, had left his position.

Tesla’s Berlin factory is scheduled to open next July to start building the Model Y electric crossover for the European market with an initial capacity of 150,000 units.

Daimler said on Wednesday that Reif would go into early retirement at the end of the year at his own request.

German unions have lamented the fact that traditional automakers are throttling back investment into combustion engine technologies as regulators clamp down on emissions and as demand for vehicles is hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daimler said Clemenz Dobrawa, who currently heads the Mercedes battery manufacturing plant in Kamenz, Germany, had taken over leadership of the Mercedes plants in Hamburg and Berlin earlier this month.

“Thanks to his activity as representative in Kamenz, he brings important know-how for the transformation toward electromobility,” Daimler said.

The Berlin plant would be restructured to serve an ‘Electric First’ strategy, Daimler said.

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Saurabh Shukla

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