Elon Musk has said Tesla’s sole US car plant has restarted production, defying an order to remain closed during the coronavirus lockdown.
The billionaire, who just days ago threatened to move the facility out of California, said if anyone should be arrested for flouting the rules – it should be him.
His bold move comes as states and cities around the US experiment with ways to safely reopen their economies after the COVID-19 outbreak shuttered businesses and forced millions of Americans out of work.
Over the weekend, Musk threatened to move Tesla’s HQ to Texas or Nevada.
His move has highlighted the competition for jobs and ignited a rush to woo the executive by states that have reopened their economies more quickly in response to encouragement from Donald Trump.
In an email on Monday, Tesla referred to an order on Thursday by California’s governor allowing manufacturers to resume operations and said that as of Sunday, previously furloughed employees were back to their regular employment status.
“We’re happy to get back to work and have implemented very detailed plans to help you keep safe as you return,” according to the email seen by the Reuters news agency.
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Musk in a tweet said production was resuming on Monday, and added that he would join workers on the assembly line.
“If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,” he wrote.
Health officials in Alameda County, where the Fremont factory is based, said they were aware that Tesla had opened beyond the so-called minimum basic operations allowed during lockdown, and had notified the company it could not operate without a county-approved plan.
In a statement, officials said they expected a proposal from Tesla and that the firm would “comply without further enforcement measures”.
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The county’s lockdown order says violations are punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.
A spokeswoman for the Fremont Police Department said her office was enforcing the lockdown order at the direction of the health department and had been advised that the county is working with Tesla directly.
Meanwhile, earlier US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said California should do whatever is necessary to help the electric carmaker reopen its only US vehicle factory if it wants to keep the company in its state.
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday said he spoke to Musk several days ago and that his concerns helped prompt the state to begin its phased reopening of manufacturing last week.
On Saturday Tesla sued the county, alleging it had violated California’s constitution by defying Newsom’s orders allowing manufacturers to reopen.