Elon Musk UK visit drives Tesla factory rumours

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Elon Musk laughs with arms folded in this file photoImage source, Getty Images

A brief visit by Tesla boss Elon Musk to Luton has ignited rumours that he is considering a Tesla factory in the UK.

The electric car mogul flew into Luton Airport on a private jet last weekend and stayed two days, reports say.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the visit coincides with a hunt by UK officials for "a major new car plant" location.

The secrecy around the bids has led to speculation that Mr Musk may be involved.

The Telegraph reported (behind a paywall) that regional authorities - including those in Teesside and the West Midlands - were given an unusually short 48 hours to prepare bids for a 250-hectare site, without being told what company the bid was for.

The process was run by the Office for Investment, a new government office which is designed to help smooth out discussions between the public sector and private foreign investors post-Brexit.

Flight-tracking software showed that a private Gulfstream jet widely reported to belong to Mr Musk, landed at Luton Airport from California.

The plane then moved on to Germany, where Mr Musk paid a visit on Monday to the site of Tesla's large "gigafactory", which has been plagued by delays.

However, neither the government nor Tesla have confirmed the speculation about Mr Musk's brief stop in the UK.

It's also not the first time Mr Musk has landed in Luton for a brief visit, fuelling such rumours - he was reported to have made a similar stop in June last year.

For Elon Musk, Luton Airport - with its private terminal for corporate jets - may be just a handy place for a brief stop on his way to inspect his German operations.

But for a UK government desperate to boost inward investment, the stopovers - and there have been several - are a vital opportunity to woo the Tesla tycoon.

Two years ago he made it clear that Brexit uncertainty was a factor in rejecting the UK and choosing Berlin as the location for Tesla's "gigafactory", which the company bills as "the most advanced high-volume electric vehicle production plant in the world".

But British officials have not given up, stressing that outside the EU those pesky state aid rules don't apply, meaning there could be substantial government funding for a factory here.

Now it's still hard to see the logic for a Tesla plant just to supply the UK market - but Elon Musk has shown himself to be adept at taking advantage of government subsidies and tax breaks at home in the US, as well as in Germany. So don't rule it out quite yet.