In the course of a tumultuous ten days, Tesla founder Elon Musk has decried the “fascist” state, and commenced legal proceedings against the country of Almeda in California.
Adding to the controversy, the entrepreneur is taunting officials to arrest him on his own production line, and topping it all by reopening the Fremont factory in defiance of lock-down laws.
“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” he tweeted. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”
His latest outbursts on Twitter derides an “unelected county official” for what he perceives as a bias against Tesla reopening its main facility, which produces the bulk of the company’s cars.
“Yes, California approved, but an unelected county official illegally overrode,” he tweeted in reply to a question about whether the state of California has approved Tesla’s reopening after COVID-19 stay-at-home orders were loosened.
“Also, all other auto companies in US are approved to resume. Only Tesla has been singled out. This is super messed up!”
Tesla indicated last week that it was planning to bring back 30 per cent of the Fremont’s 10,000 workers. Unlike other US carmakers, Tesla’s workforce are not part of a union, which means that a return-to-work instruction is harder to disobey.
Musk, however, emailed employees last week, confirming that they may stay home if they choose to do so.
“If you feel uncomfortable coming back to work at this time, please do not feel obligated to do so,” he wrote. “These are difficult times, so thanks very much for working hard to make Tesla successful!”
Musk speaking at a Satellite 2020 conference last month on behalf of SpaceX
The company says that temperature screening and social distancing measures have been implemented, but it stops short of confirming that it will issue all staff personal protective equipment like masks or goggles.
In a blog post on its website, Tesla insists that it has fulfilled every requirement that country officials have imposed.
"Tesla is not an outlier, nor are we going against the grain," reads the post. "From the State’s very first shelter-in-place order, national critical infrastructure, including vehicle manufacturing like Tesla’s Fremont factory, was considered vital and given permission to continue operating. The Governor repeated this direction this week when he made clear manufacturing should resume."
The post also points out other businesses of similar size that have already re-commenced operations, and that Tesla's business should be classified as 'essential'.
"Meanwhile, Alameda county, where our factory resides, and Santa Clara County next door, have stated in their return to work order FAQs that the manufacturing of distributed energy resources (which is defined in state law to include electric vehicles, solar and battery storage) is permitted to resume," it reads.
Tesla also disputes the assertion that county officials have been in constant contact.
"Contrary to the Governor’s recent guidance and support from the City of Fremont, Alameda County is insisting we should not resume operations. This is not for lack of trying or transparency since we have met with and collaborated on our restart plans with the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. Unfortunately, the County Public Health Officer who is making these decisions has not returned our calls or emails," the blog reads.
In an astonishing, expletive-laden tirade last month, Tesla founder Musk lashed out at the Californian and US governments, accusing it of imprisoning citizens in the face of the coronavirus outbreak that is sweeping the country.
Speaking on a quarterly earnings conference call, Musk pulled no punches, railing against state- and nation-wide lockdowns that have seen car factories – including his own Tesla plant in Fremont, California – shuttered.
"Frankly, I would call it forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights, in my opinion," he said on the call. "Breaking peoples' freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country. What the f--k?"
Musk also demanded that people shouldn't be forced to remain in their homes.
"This is fascist," he said. "This isn't democratic. This isn't freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom."
It's reported that the audio feed for the earnings call was cut off in the wake of the comments, which came as Musk was questioned about the extension of 'shelter at home' orders currently in place in much of California.
San Francisco will relax some restrictions around outdoor activities, but businesses are still under shut-down orders.
Musk has long held the view that the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 61,000 Americans since February and infected more than a million US citizens to date, has been overplayed.
He fought against Californian stay-at-home orders, arguing the Tesla plant was an essential business, while leaked emails asking for workers to return to the plant this week have seen that plan shelved, while suggesting there would be no more cases of COVID-19 in the US by the end of April.
He also tweeted about coronavirus panic being “dumb” last month, which sparked a wave of criticism.
“As a basis for comparison, the risk of death from C19 is *vastly* less than the risk of death from driving your car home,” Musk, whose Teslas are equipped with what the company calls a bioweapon defence mode, wrote to SpaceX employees in early March.
And as recently as yesterday, Musk tweeted his displeasure to his 33 million Twitter followers;
FREE AMERICA NOW— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020
The bizarre tirade to journalists comes after Tesla posted a surprise first-quarter profit in the face of the worst period the automotive industry has ever seen – though much of the fiscal growth came in the form of zero-emission vehicle credit sales to other carmakers.
More than $600 million worth of government-issued credits were sold to other carmakers to help them hit tightening emissions regulations, particularly in Tesla’s home state of California.
Sales of the Model Y crossover also commenced in a slowly recovering China.
Musk has also taken the highly unusual step of personally insuring his directors against liability, in the face of "disproportionally" high increases in premiums for the next financial year.
Musk's personal stake in Tesla is currently worth around $40 billion, while his personal wealth is estimated at around $75 billion, despite never having taken a paycheque from Tesla.