Tesla still building cars despite California’s coronavirus lockdown

Tesla is still building cars at its factory in Fremont, California, despite the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order — a defiant stance that may result in a head-on collision with the law.

The electric automaker headed by billionaire Elon Musk — which earlier this week told workers it would continue manufacturing operations despite local officials ordering residents to stay at home except for necessary reasons — has internally described its business as part of “national critical infrastructure.”

Alameda County, where Tesla’s factory is located, earlier this week tweeted that Tesla can maintain only “minimum basic operations” under the current health order. That means the automaker can only continue work required to process payroll, maintain the value of inventory and ensure security at the plant.

Nevertheless, Tesla earlier this week directed staff who work in factory production to continue coming to work, with one anonymous worker telling Reuters Thursday that vehicle production “appeared to continue unchanged.” On Wednesday, witnesses said they saw “thousands of cars” in the parking lot outside the factory.

Tesla said in an internal email obtained by CNBC that workers would have their temperature taken before entering the facility, and that they would be provided with masks to wear while assembling vehicles.

The automaker is currently in discussions with authorities to try to keep its production floor open without openly flouting the law, according to the report.

Representatives for Tesla did not respond to a request for comment about the factory’s status Thursday.

Musk earlier this week told employees in a memo to stay home from work if they felt the “slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable,” but said he was unaware of any workers testing positive for the coronavirus. The billionaire raised eyebrows this month with his Twitter pronouncement that the “coronavirus panic is dumb.”

The nearly 7 million people affected by the order are required to stay home unless they work at a business that provides “essential” services, such as a grocery store or pharmacy, or at a utility provider.

Alameda County, where the factory is located, said earlier this week that Tesla’s factory does not fit the qualifications, and thus is not exempt from the area’s lockdown order, which limits travel and socialization for the next three weeks.

Tesla agreed to reduce the number of workers at the facility — which normally has 10,000 employees pass through its doors daily — and said it would implement efforts to make sure they remain more than six feet apart.

The Fremont facility expects annualized production of slightly more than 415,000 units by the fourth quarter.

Separately on Thursday, hundreds of Twitter users welcomed an offer by Musk to make ventilators for coronavirus sufferers, after the United States appealed for donations of respirator masks to combat a shortage.

With Post wires.

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