Tesla CEO Elon Musk publicly threatened to sue California's Alameda County on Saturday and to move the electric vehicle maker's headquarters elsewhere after health officials said the company's factory couldn't reopen yet due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Having complained over the weekend about being the only carmaker in the U.S. still shuttered by the Covid-19 lockdown, Musk announced on Monday that Tesla is restarting production "against Alameda County rules".
On Monday, the company's chief executive Elon Musk tweeted that production had restarted and he would be "on the line with everyone else". "If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me", Musk said.
"While only essential businesses are now allowed to operate in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom let some retail and manufacturing businesses open last Friday and said Monday he expected Tesla to start up operations by next week". The automaker had only told specific workers to report back to work later this week, as Business Insider reported. The plant apparently continued operations on Tuesday, and it wasn't clear whether Tesla met a 5 p.m. PDT deadline to submit a site-specific plan to protect worker safety.
The restart violates orders from the Alameda County Health Department, which had deemed the factory a non-essential business. Now he says he'll be suing the county for being in violation federal and state guidelines, saying that the auto plant qualifies as "critical infrastructure". While Governor Gavin Newsom announced last week he would let manufacturers in parts of the state reopen starting May 8, he also said local authorities could keep stricter measures in place.
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The email conflicted with remarks that Newsom made during the governor's daily press briefing, which took place before Musk's tweet.
Tesla was likely going to be allowed to reopen next week along with a host of other kinds of businesses around the Bay Area, but apparently Musk has waited long enough and would prefer to lead with contrarian defiance.
"Alameda county, where our factory resides, and Santa Clara County next door, have stated in their return to work order FAQs that the manufacturing of distributed energy resources (which is defined in state law to include electric vehicles, solar and battery storage) is permitted to resume". "We need to continue to work together so those sacrifices don't go to waste and that we maintain our gains", Neetu Balram, the public information manager for the county's public health department said in a statement.
He described the coronavirus restrictions as "fascist" and urged governments to stop taking people's freedom.
The lack of production in Fremont has cut off Tesla's revenue and is a big financial strain. On the issue of Tesla actually leaving Fremont, Wedbush's Dan Ives observes that the process could take 12 to 18 months and layer in more manufacturing and logistics risk.
A sign bearing Tesla's logo in California's Silicon Valley is pictured in 2018.