Elon Musk’s Tesla told employees in an email that work at its San Francisco Bay Area will continue, but with reduced staff, as the electric car maker considers the factory “critical infrastructure” amid the coronavirus crisis.
Musk also offered to produce ventilators for hospitals running short of those crucial medical devices.
But even with a quarter of its usual staff, the level of activity at the Fremont, California, plant remains at odds with guidance the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department has given Tesla to comply with strict “shelter-in-place” rules for nonessential businesses to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We have asked only essential employees to report to work at our Bay Area locations, while all others who can are working from home,” according to a copy of the memo sent to workers that was obtained by Forbes. “Decreasing onsite personnel at our Fremont factory to only essential employees and allowing others to work remotely, is helping to create a safer workspace while honoring our government commitment to keep our national critical infrastructure running.”
Workers at Fremont will be given masks to wear while in the plant and their temperatures will be taken as they enter, according to the email. On Wednesday they were told, “There are no changes in your normal work assignment and you should continue to work if you are in an essential function: production, service, deliveries, testing and supporting groups as discussed with your manager,” according to an earlier email.
Fremont was operating Wednesday with only about 2,500 of its typical 10,000 employees, but apparently still building vehicles. That was in direct defiance of a determination by the local sheriff’s department that it only conduct basic minimum operations, such as payroll, human resources and facility maintenance functions because Tesla wasn’t designated an essential business.
“My understanding is they are still not operating at basic minimum levels,” Sergeant Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda Sheriff’s Dept., said Wednesday. “They are operating at essential levels and need to move to minimum basic.”
Musk made his ventilator offer in response to a tweeted question from a fan who said, “Please repurpose your factory to make ventilators, which are needed ASAP. I am a Tesla owner and love the company. You have to stop being an idiot about this. This is a massive disaster. Ask the doctors in the field.”
“We will make ventilators if there is a shortage,” Musk responded. “Tesla makes cars with sophisticated HVAC systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?”
His offer came after General Motors CEO Mary Barra told White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow her company could make hospital ventilators while its plants are idled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Musk didn’t provide details on whether Tesla was in communication with the Trump administration or California officials about his offer.
President Donald Trump said at a White House press briefing on Wednesday that he would invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950 in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, an action that gives the federal government broad powers to enlist private companies to help with national crises.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was quick to take Musk up on his offer.
“@elonmusk New York City is buying!,” he said via Twitter. “Our country is facing a drastic shortage and we need ventilators ASAP — we will need thousands in this city over the next few weeks. We’re getting them as fast as we can but we could use your help! We’re reaching out to you directly.”