Elon Musk threats to move Tesla HQ in row over plant reopening

Electric car maker files lawsuit after local officials refuse to allow California plant to resume production

Tesla has sued local authorities in California in a dispute over plans to reopen its Fremont factory – with company boss Elon Musk saying the firm is set to move its headquarters and future manufacturing plants out of the state.

Production has been halted at the electric car maker’s plant since mid-March, when officials in Alameda County issued a ‘stay-at-home’ order to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Tesla initially wanted to keep the plant open, but county officials ruled that car production was a “non-essential business”. The Model 3 and new Model Y are both built at the facility.

California officials are now beginning to ease many of the restrictions put in place, but while several neighbouring counties have lifted restrictions, Alameda County officials have yet to give permission for the plant to reopen. That has prompted Tesla to file a lawsuit against the county in San Francisco Federal Court. In the filing, Tesla called the restrictions a “power grab” by county officials that contravened the California governor’s statement that manufacturers in the state would be allowed to reopen.

In a statement issued on its website, Tesla said that it has informed officials in Alameda County about its restart plans, and working with the county’s public health agency on steps to guarantee the safety of its workers. These include online training, temperature screening, partitioned work zones, rigorous cleaning and the use of personal protective equipment.

Tesla said the restart plan was “the result of months of careful planning” and was modelled after the “comprehensive return to work plan” in its Shanghai Gigafactory in China, which resumed production three months ago following that country’s lockdown.

The firm added: “We will continue to put people back to work in a safe and responsible manner. However, the County’s position left us no choice but to take legal action to ensure that Tesla and its employees can get back to work.”

Following the post, Musk wrote on Twitter: “Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen [sic] on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.”

Tesla has an existing gigafactory in Nevada, and is understood to have been evaluating opening a plant in Texas in the near-future. Both states have also begun to substantially ease lockdown restrictions to combat the spread of Covid-19 in recent weeks.

Alameda County officials declined to comment when contacted by The Mercury News but in a statement, county’s Public Health Department told the newspaper that it has been working with Tesla “in a collaborative, good faith effort to develop and implement a safety plan that allows for reopening while protecting the health and well-being of the thousands of employees who travel to and from work at Tesla’s factory.”

Fremont mayor Lily Mei issued a statement saying: “The City encourages the County to engage with our local businesses to come up with acceptable guidelines for re-opening our local economy. As we have done for over a decade, the City is prepared to support Tesla as soon as they are able to resume automobile manufacturing operations and are committed to a thoughtful, balanced approach to this effort that remains safe for our Fremont community.”

James Attwood

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