Pedants’ corner: why the term “gigafactory” grids Car News

It seems barely a week can go by without a mention of a new electric car battery gigafactory. As the shift to electrification accelerates, automakers and battery makers are rushing to build gigantic factories, and governments appear to be tripping over themselves to help.

The latest news is that Nissan is set to embark on a massive new battery factory in Sunderland, which is great news and a big boost for UK industry. But I feel the need to ask a little more trivial question: am I the only person who cringes every time I read the term gigafactory? Because if gigafactory has become the accepted phrase for a battery production facility, everyone knows that doesn’t really mean that, does it?

Yes, hello and welcome to the pedantic corner.

My aversion to the term gigafactory is due to the fact that some people seem to attach a certain level of mystery and majesty to it, as if it were a real thing. Granted, a gigafactory looks more dramatic, futuristic, and exciting than a good old-fashioned factory. But, really, it’s still just a factory.

The term gigafactory was coined in 2013 by Tesla boss Elon Musk to describe the battery production facility his company was building in Nevada. This site was really, really big, and during its planning, Musk said that the growing demand for electric vehicles would require “gigantic factories” of similar size in the future. The expression came from the fact that “giga” is a word that describes a billion. It was referring to the size of what is now officially called Giga Nevada, not what was produced there (Giga Shanghai, for example, produces cars, not batteries).

One way or another, whether trying to subtly tie their efforts to the gradual approach of Tesla’s agenda, the main battery factories of other companies have been labeled as gigafactories. A loosely defined phrase that was based on the size of a factory has sort of become an accepted shorthand for a different meaning.

Is it important? Of course not. The definitions of words are changing and many of the expressions you will find in the dictionary have very different meanings than those that were originally coined. And I can’t fault the use of gigafactory too much: you’ll find it used a lot in Autocar, including on many songs I’ve written.

And, let’s face it, the automotive world is full of terms that don’t make much sense. Another pet peeve is the four-door coupe, which has become a thing despite the dictionary clearly noting that a coupe has only two doors.

But there is still something that often rattles particularly in the sentence gigafactory. Perhaps this is because it often seems to be used by government officials trying to appear modern and progressive, or business leaders trying to exploit the perceived cool Tesla a little bit. It’s a bit like this tendency for any tech company to stick the “i” on the front of their product names to copy Apple.

But maybe it’s just me. Be intrigued to know what you think – and what other auto industry jargon has you blowing your mind.


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This notice was published: 2021-06-29 14:23:28

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