Elon Musk has been talking with the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, following a turbulent weekend which saw the Tesla co-founder and CEO threaten to take the headquarters of his electric vehicle company out of California after being told by local county officials that he could not reopen his Fremont electric car factory.
Abbott confirmed in an interview with a local media outlet that he had spoken with Musk after the Tesla boss said he would consider moving its Palo Alto headquarters to Texas or Nevada, Reuters reported mid-Wednesday.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Elon Musk and he’s genuinely interested in Texas and genuinely frustrated with California,” Abbott was quoted as saying by Reuters. “We’ve just got to wait and see how things play out.”
Musk has previously openly considered finding a site for a Texas Gigafactory, when he ran a poll on Twitter on whether Tesla should build a factory in the state in February.
At the time, there was a great deal of discussion on whether this would be an ideal location to build Elon’s pet project, the Cybertruck. Musk has since said that the next US Gigafactory will indeed build the Cybertruck, and Texas is a possible location although this is not yet set in stone.
The discussion around reopening Tesla’s Fremont Gigafactory also took a surprising although not entirely unexpected turn when president Trump tweeted his support of Tesla CEO and co-founder Elon Musk’s desire to reopen the electric car factory on Tuesday evening (US time).
“California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely!” tweeted Trump.
Musk’s ensuing thanks to the president, who has over past months shared widely varying opinions about the seriousness of the novel Coronavirus, drew a wide range of reactions from the Twitterverse. Musk’s own comments on Twitter about the Covid-19 pandemic have been perceived by some as blasé at best, and at worst, reckless.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2020
One Twittizen responded saying, “You just agreed with Donald trump. …Let that sink in, Elon.”
Musk responded saying, “Those who always disagree have a closed mind … but, by their very nature, that won’t sink in (sigh).”
Those who always disagree have a closed mind … but, by their very nature, that won’t sink in (sigh)
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2020
Musk has been outspoken about his view that Fremont should reopen and start making the Model 3 and Model Y again – in fact, it was revealed on Tuesday that unnamed Tesla staff had told The Verge that 200 or so Model 3 and Model Y vehicles may have already been made after Tesla called some workers back to work.
On Saturday, Tesla filed a federal lawsuit against Alameda county saying it had overstepped its jurisdiction after the state of California approved a reopening of the Fremont factory.
Leaving aside the fact the Trump, in very Trumpish fashion, has wrongly singled out the state of California rather than the county of Alameda, the discussion around whether Tesla should reopen the factory is heated, to say the least.
Concerns about the health of workers rightly abound, although measures reportedly being taken in Tesla’s Shanghai Gigafactory which reopened in March would indicate that the company has given a great deal of thought to how a reopening in Fremont would shape up.
For Tesla’s part, it issued a statement on Saturday outlining its plan to reopen:
Our restart plan is the result of months of careful planning and preparation. It was modeled after the comprehensive return to work plan we established at our Shanghai Gigafactory, which has seen smooth and healthy operations for the last three months.
We are taking the time we need to get our personnel properly trained before they begin work and all employees must complete an online video training before returning to work at any Tesla facility. We have a thorough return-to-work plan for all locations. A cross-functional response team, including an in-house physician, has been working daily to establish health and safety guidelines based on location- and job-specific risk assessments, and we are continuously reviewing our processes to ensure they work for our employees in this new environment.
Back in March, we conducted risk assessments at each site, looking at how and where people work, how they interact, and what measures are needed to meet safety standards. In some cases, we have added partitions or barriers to separate work areas and minimized employee interactions by positioning parts closer to where that task is completed on the line. We are also requiring additional personal protective equipment, along with rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
Our Return to Work playbook details the comprehensive safety measures we have introduced to ensure employee safety.
Musk’s gripes would seem to focus on the fact that he sees Tesla has been singled out while other car makers in the country have been approved to resume operations.
Yes, California approved, but an unelected county official illegally overrode. Also, all other auto companies in US are approved to resume. Only Tesla has been singled out. This is super messed up!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2020
According to US media, both GM and Ford have plans to reopen on Monday 18 March, with plants in Mexico and Canada as well as the US scheduled to reopen.
Adding to the frying pan, an email sent to workers and first reported on by The Guardian suggests that by unfurloughing its workers, Tesla may be depriving staff of the option to continue to stay home while shelter-in-place orders are still in place and receive unemployment benefits.
According to an email seen by The Guardian, Tesla wrote, ““If you do not feel comfortable coming into work, you can stay home and will be on unpaid leave. Choosing not to report to work may eliminate or reduce your eligibility for unemployment depending on your state’s unemployment agency.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.