Elon Musk threatens lawsuit to restart Tesla manufacturing during pandemic

Tesla supercharger stations let Tesla drivers charge their electric vehicles.

Tesla supercharger stations let Tesla drivers charge their electric vehicles.

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Tesla will sue Alameda County to reopen its Fremont, California, manufacturing plant and will move its headquarters out of California, Chief Executive Elon Musk said Saturday. He also threatened to stop manufacturing cars at the plant altogether, the latest step in months of fighting with the county over restrictions imposed to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Tesla closed the Fremont plant in March as the state and county sought to curtail the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to start letting some businesses reopen starting Friday, a move Musk cheered. But Alameda County, where Fremont is located, reportedly said Tesla doesn’t have permission to start reopening the plant.

The fight shows conflicting priorities in the effort to fight the pandemic: Restarting businesses lets people get back to work, but loosening shelter-in-place restrictions poses risks to public health. More than 78,000 people in the United States and 277,000 people globally have died from COVID-19, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Musk, who’s taken issue with what he’s called the coronavirus “panic,” isn’t happy about the restrictions on his company’s electric-vehicle manufacturing. Tesla has just begun producing its Model Y, a crossover based on the earlier Model 3 sedan.

“Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. The unelected & ignorant ‘Interim Health Officer’ of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!” Musk said in one tweet

“Frankly, this is the final straw,” Musk added in another tweet. “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 [depend] on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.”

Tesla and the Alameda health officer didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The California policy for reopening businesses is a four-stage plan. “We are now in early Stage 2, where retail (curbside and delivery only), related logistics and manufacturing and essential businesses can open,” the state plan’s website said Friday. The plan offers a provision for counties to move faster if they meet readiness criteria.

Alameda County and six other San Francisco Bay Area counties said Thursday they’re working “to find ways to reopen more businesses and activities safely.”

“We appreciate that the governor recognizes that California communities are impacted differently by coronavirus and can make decisions at the local level,” the counties said in the Thursday statement. “In our current environment, if a county order differs from a state order, the more restrictive order takes precedence.”

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