Lockdown strains another romance: California and Elon Musk

The love affair between California and Elon Musk has began to bitter.

Musk’s electric-car firm, Tesla Inc., is California’s dream of a greener financial system made actual, rising from scrappy Silicon Valley startup to the world’s second-most-valuable automaker. Politicians level to his Los Angeles rocket firm, SpaceX — poised to hold astronauts to the Worldwide Area Station on Wednesday — as an emblem of Golden State ingenuity.

However Musk, searching for a fertile marketplace for his pickup truck and a cost-effective place to construct it, is staging a present of pique. He has slammed coronavirus shutdowns as “fascist” and reopened his California manufacturing unit towards native authorities orders. He’s contemplating Texas for a manufacturing unit that may plant Tesla’s flag in a pink state the place vehicles reign supreme and attraction to a brand new swath of consumers: conservatives.

“Elon elevating this concern and being seen as anti-California will resonate so much with individuals on the precise,” mentioned Subodh Bhat, a advertising and marketing professor at San Francisco State College. “He’s all the time been a provocateur.”

California has been a nurturing associate for Musk, 48. Its daring local weather targets and incentives juiced the marketplace for Tesla’s smooth sedans and crossovers, with purchasers receiving $266.eight million in state rebates over time. Greater than 40 p.c of the corporate’s new U.S. automobile registrations in 2019 have been in California, in line with IHS Markit. A full decade since Tesla’s IPO, shoppers can nonetheless apply for a $2,000 rebate from the state in the event that they purchase a Mannequin three or a Mannequin Y.

But when Alameda County shutdown orders stopped manufacturing at Tesla’s plant in Fremont, Musk defied native well being officers by closing late and reopening early. He briefly sued the county, and threatened to maneuver his Palo Alto headquarters to Texas or Nevada.

“That is the ultimate straw,” he wrote in a Could 9 tweet, after county officers mentioned the corporate wasn’t licensed to reopen the plant. “If we even retain Fremont manufacturing exercise in any respect, will probably be depending on how Tesla is handled sooner or later.”

Some legislators informed him to get misplaced (in less-printable phrases), editorial writers and columnists wished him good riddance, and a state panel denied SpaceX $656,000 for job coaching.

Musk and Tesla declined to remark for this story.

“Even when the transfer was years sooner or later, simply the announcement that Tesla was leaving could be an enormous black eye for California,” mentioned Dan Schnur, who teaches political communications on the College of California at Berkeley and the College of Southern California.

In 2014, Tesla drew a number of states into a contest to win its huge battery plant, dubbed the Gigafactory. This time, the prize is a plant to construct the angular Cybertruck pickup. Florida and Oklahoma have made pitches — Tulsa’s “Golden Driller,” a 75-foot statue of an oil employee, was transformed into the image of Musk with a Tesla logo. However Texas is by far the nation’s largest truck market. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott mentioned this month that he’d talked to Musk.

“He’s genuinely enthusiastic about Texas and genuinely pissed off with California,” Abbott informed a Wichita Falls tv station.

John Boyd, principal of a Princeton, N.J., site-selection agency, mentioned Texas, Oklahoma and Florida all are making private appeals to Musk. “In California, you may have an elected official telling him to go F himself,” Boyd mentioned.

Altering colours

Lengthy a hero to the environmental left, Musk has more and more taken to saying issues that play higher on the precise. He spent months downplaying the coronavirus, a lot as President Donald Trump did. And Musk’s huge social media following has made him one of the distinguished voices calling for a fast restart to the financial system, with tweets like “FREE AMERICA NOW.”

He just lately suggested his Twitter followers to “take the pink tablet,” a reference to the 1999 science fiction movie the Matrix that has been adopted by factions of the alt-right as shorthand for a political awakening. Ivanka Trump replied that she’d already taken it. And on Friday, the president mentioned he would go to Florida on Wednesday to observe the launch of SpaceX’s manned check mission.

That each one could play effectively in unbiased, ornery Texas, the place officers have been reluctant to impose stay-home orders, and the place Musk has a foothold. SpaceX has an engine-testing facility in McGregor and a rocket manufacturing facility in Boca Chica. Texas is already Tesla’s third-biggest U.S. market, regardless that years of opposition from auto sellers means it might probably’t promote automobiles there instantly.

The Tesla House owners Membership of North Texas has about 300 core members who span the political gamut, mentioned president Rick Bollar: Trump supporters, progressive ladies, and Texas patriots proud to gasoline up through an electrical grid that runs largely on the state’s pure gasoline.

“Elon Musk already does a number of enterprise in Texas due to SpaceX,” mentioned Bollar, who owns each a Mannequin S and a Mannequin X. “Texas was the runner up for the Gigafactory the final time round. If the manufacturing unit comes right here, it could not shock me if the state did a carve-out to permit Tesla to promote automobiles instantly.”

Would Musk truly fulfill his risk to go away California, not simply construct elsewhere? Analysts doubt it. Although Tesla has a Nevada battery manufacturing unit and a photo voltaic panel plant in upstate New York, the Fremont plant is the one one within the U.S. churning out automobiles. Tesla has spent practically $2.eight billion on tools in California since 2009. It’s additionally been awarded $232 million from a state sales-tax exemption for tools, together with $10 million in March.

However Musk’s showdown with well being authorities in California carries actual dangers. The Fremont plant now has greater than 10,000 workers, some enduring marathon commutes from counties outdoors the San Francisco Bay Space. Full of equipment and other people, it’s not a perfect place for social distancing.

“If this was a live performance or sporting occasion drawing 10,000 individuals from not solely the Bay Space however a part of the Central Valley, that presents substantively a threat,” mentioned John Swartzberg, a health care provider who’s a scientific professor emeritus on the College of California. “I’d go as far to say a really giant threat.”

Up to now, no COVID-19 case could be traced to Tesla’s manufacturing unit, however it’s additionally not clear how the general public would discover out.

Tesla submitted a plan this month for reopening the Fremont plant to county well being officers. They requested Tesla to enhance well being screenings of workers as they boarded shuttle buses to the manufacturing unit; Tesla had beforehand solely screened workers on the plant.

Tesla mentioned in a weblog submit that its plan fashions insurance policies at its plant in Shanghai, “which has seen clean and wholesome operations for the final three months.” Movies present staff there sporting masks and getting their temperatures checked.

Within the meantime, pink states are able to get in on Tesla’s act. Tulsa’s Republican mayor, G.T. Bynum, mentioned his metropolis has lengthy revered pioneers and entrepreneurs.

“The No. 1 automobile in Oklahoma is a truck,” mentioned Bynum. “To associate with Tesla at a time when they’re branching out is thrilling. We might be proud to be related to the corporate.”

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