Tesla Plant-Opening Drama Ends
Tesla, which defied health department orders and opened its U.S. factory on May 11, has been cleared to reopen the facility on May 18.
Tesla begrudgingly agreed to idle its home plant in Fremont, Calif., effective March 24. This was after several days of ignoring orders to do so because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tesla’s position was that its factory had a right to remain open because it is “essential” to the country.
CEO Elon Musk grumbled that local stay-home orders, which were to continue to the end of May, were “fascist” and a violation of constitutional and civil liberties.
California eased its restrictions on manufacturing, effective May 8. But Gov. Gavin Newsom also said local authorities could opt not to do the same. Alameda County and half a dozen cities in the area decided to stick with their existing timetable so they could collect more data on COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates.
A furious Musk went ballistic, condemning the delay as “medically irrational behavior.” He ordered the plant to reopen immediately and dramatically offered to be arrested for his decision (he wasn’t). Over the weekend, Musk also filed a federal lawsuit against Alameda County, in which the factory is located, threatened to move Tesla’s headquarters and production out of the state.
Back to Work, Now!
By May 12, local reports indicated that Tesla’s factory was full of workers and gearing up production. The plant also has implemented a number of health safety measures very comparable to those being used in U.S. factories being opened this week by General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
President Donald Trump chimed in, tweeting that California should allow the plant to open immediately, adding, “It can be done Fast & Safely!”
Today, county officials decided the facility was, indeed, ready for a “possible” reopening…five days from now. Those officials made no indication they plan to take any enforcement actions in response to Tesla jumping the gun.
It’s understandable that manufacturers want to get their factories back in business as soon as possible. But allowing them to opt out of public policies that don’t fit their own agendas could have long-term consequences.
We’re not out of the woods yet with the coronavirus. Listening and abiding by what health experts advise remains a critical element in a successful recovery for the auto industry.
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Dan Nicholson is vice president of General Motors Global Propulsion Systems, the organization that had been “GM Powertrain” for 24 years.