Tesla has resumed production at its US gigafactory in Fremont, California, in defiance of local officials.
While California has eased its stay-at-home restrictions to allow manufacturing to resume, officials in Alameda County, where the plant is located, have so far not given permission for it to reopen. That prompted Tesla to file a lawsuit against county officials over the weekend.
Staff have now returned to work at the site, with production resuming yesterday (Monday). Production had been halted since mid-March, when officials 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.
On Twitter, company boss Elon Musk said: "Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."
A statement from Alameda County officials said: "We learned that the Tesla factory in Fremont had opened beyond Minimum Basic Operations. We have notified Tesla that they can only maintain Minimum Basic Operations until we have an approved plan that can be implemented in accordance with the local public health order.
"We are addressing this matter using the same phased approach we use for other businesses which have violated the order in the past, and we hope that Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures."
While several neighbouring counties have lifted restrictions, Alameda County officials have yet to give permission for the plant to reopen. That prompted Tesla to file a lawsuit against the county in San Francisco Federal Court last weekend. 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 is 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.
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.”