Tesla boss Elon Musk has challenged local authorities to arrest him after reopening his California factory in violation of local coronavirus restrictions.
“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,” Mr Musk said on Twitter early on Tuesday (Australian time).
The company, which had been closed since March 23 to help slow the spread of COVID-19, has summoned employees back to work at its Freemont plant – in defiance of local laws requiring it to stay shut.
The massive Tesla plant employs 10,000 people, and its car park was nearly full at the start of the working week.
Elsewhere, trucks departed with vehicles that might have been produced before the shutdown.
Tesla said it had implemented safety procedures to protect workers, including increased cleaning, enforcement of social distancing, providing face coverings and gloves where needed.
It has also installed barriers between workers and introduced employee temperature checks at “some locations”.
In another tweet, Musk said car companies elsewhere in the US had been allowed to resume operations, but Alameda County regulations were holding back Tesla.
Alameda County Sheriff Ray Kelly said any enforcement of the law would come from local police, who would be directed by the county’s health officer.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday that Tesla and other manufacturers might be able to reopen their plants in the state as early as next week.
Over the weekend, Mr Musk threatened to move the company to Texas or Nevada.
“Frankly, this is the final straw,” he wrote in a since-deleted tweet.
“Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately.”
The Fremont factory is Tesla’s only US vehicle-assembly plant, and the company would lose critical production if it shut it down to move equipment.
Governor Newsom indicated the issue in Freemont was a local dispute between different authorities, which would be resolved.
Mr Musk has both downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and called lockdown measures “fascist”. He has tweeted support for reopening the country, despite the mounting death toll that is the worst in the world.
Californian law allows a fine of $USD1000 ($1548) a day or up to 90 days in jail for violating health orders.