Musk Rants about COVID Restrictions
The auto industry’s most vocal critic of those who take the coronavirus pandemic very seriously is at it again.
Over the weekend a frustrated CEO Elon Musk threatened to move all Tesla operations from California to Texas or Nevada because of delays in allowing him to reopen the company’s assembly plant in Alameda county.
Defiant from the Start
Musk has been skeptical about the significance of the coronavirus pandemic from the beginning.
In March, he defied the county’s original order to shutter the Fremont factory, calling such restrictions “fascist” and unconstitutional. He unsuccessfully argued the plant was immune from closure because it’s a critical part of America’s infrastructure. But the company fell in line with the shutdown order four days later and idled its plant on March 23.
On May 7, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted several COVID-19-related orders. But he also said local health officials could continue more restrictive measures. Alameda county—among the first in the U.S. to issue stay-home orders—did just that, emphasizing that its aim is “careful, measured progress.”
Fit of Pique
An incensed Musk promptly filed a federal lawsuit in San Francisco. “I’m not messing around,” he tweeted, describing the county’s edict as “absurd and medically irrational behavior.”
The county insists it has been working closely with Tesla, which has been responsive, and adds that “we look forward to coming to an agreement on an appropriate safety plan very soon.”
The ever-impatient Musk is threatening to move Tesla’s headquarters and assembly operations out of California.
“This is the final straw,” he huffed via Twitter on Saturday. “Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately.”
Whether any current manufacturing activity would remain in Fremont—the sole U.S. source of all Tesla products—depends upon “how Tesla is treated in the future,” Musk added.
None of those facility moves makes financial or operational sense.
Alameda county appears likely to lift its ban within days. Moving Tesla’s headquarters would take weeks and have zero direct impact on production.
Opting to build future models somewhere outside California would be no great financial strain, since the investment must be made regardless of location. It’s also a hollow threat, since Tesla already is hunting for a site somewhere in the middle of the U.S. to build its next model, the angular Cybertruck it unveiled in November.
But relocating its existing U.S. manufacturing base would cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars, take months to accomplish and then require weeks more to bring the all-new facility and its inexperienced workforce up to speed.
Or, Musk could sit on his hands for a few days, avoid the expense and disruption of moving anything, and simply call back his experienced workforce and restart a factory he has spent years fine-tuning.
The rational choice seems more than obvious.
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