Electric automobile manufacturer Tesla Motors will temporarily suspend operations at two factories in California and New York in response to the public health crisis associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
In an announcement on Thursday, Tesla said it would close its 10,000-employee factory in Fremont, California, its main car assembly hub in the United States, by the end of the day on Monday, March 23. The company said it would also suspend production at its factory in Buffalo, New York, where Tesla manufactures solar panels and charging equipment for its Supercharger network.
The move comes after Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk defied a shelter-in-place order issued by Alameda County in response to the coronavirus that required residents to stay at home and nonessential businesses to close. While there was initial confusion about whether Tesla’s car manufacturing operations were considered essential — a designation reserved for grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations — the county deemed the Fremont factory not essential on Tuesday evening. In internal statements, Tesla’s executives said there had been confusion in its communications with various officials at the local, state, and federal levels.
“Despite taking all known health precautions, continued operations in certain locations has caused challenges for our employees, their families and our suppliers,” the company said in its announcement. “As such, we have decided to temporarily suspend production at our factory in Fremont.“
The company said the four days before the factory’s closure will allow for “an orderly shutdown.” Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesperson for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, would not comment on whether the company would continue to make cars until it officially closes, but called the negotiations “a long few days.”
On Wednesday, Kelly had told BuzzFeed News that Tesla had agreed to reduce the amount of workers at the Fremont factory, and that Tesla’s continued building of automobiles was a violation of the county’s order. More city and county officials met with Tesla on Thursday, ultimately leading to the company’s decision to temporarily close the factory.
Tesla did not immediately respond to comment.
Musk had previously said that “the coronavirus panic is dumb” and spent part of Wednesday night and Thursday morning debating with people on Twitter whether or not his company could manufacture breathing ventilators that are needed to help coronavirus patients. As Tesla made its announcement on Thursday afternoon, its CEO cast doubt on the predicted severity of the pandemic and spread misinformation on Twitter about who was susceptible to the disease.
Tesla said basic operations will continue at the Fremont location, allowing the company to “to support our vehicle and energy service operations and charging infrastructure.” Service and parts operations will continue at the Buffalo facility, while the “Tesla Gigafactory” in Sparks, Nevada, which develops batteries, will remain open.
“In many locations, we are in the process of implementing ‘touchless deliveries’ so customers can continue to take delivery of their vehicle in a seamless and safe way,” the company said in its statement.
Employees at the Fremont factory, who had their temperatures taken at work on Wednesday and were required to wear masks, were partially confused by the decision. An internal email noted that hourly employees would be paid through Monday and that they would be provided with “paid leave during suspended operations.”
When asked what that means, one worker at the Fremont factory said that “none of us are really sure,” but said that "some money is better than none." That person, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job, said they keep showing up for work until the facility is closed.
“As far as I know, we are building cars until the end of the week,” they said.
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