Standing in a vast field of muddy wasteland that would not look out of place in an apocalyptic movie scene, Elon Musk exuded his usual mix of optimism and self-deprecating humor. Musk had trekked to these inhospitable outskirts of Shanghai on a rainy Monday to break ground on Tesla’s first car-production site outside the US. And in typical Musk fashion, he was big on promises and can-do attitude, flanked by a phalanx of Chinese officials who are keen backers of Tesla’s beachhead in China, the world’s largest car market. The build-up to the event was vintage Musk: a rapid-fire string of tweets bubbling with excitement, a dose of star power (his on-again, off-again girlfriend, the rapper Grimes, accompanied him on his China trip), and an aggressive timetable even for China’s standards, where centralised planning is not foreign to the concept of moonshot construction projects. Tesla wants the factory to start pumping out Model 3 cars by the end of the year. For all the fanfare and offi...

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