Update (1650ET): Having come under pressure from authorities officially (and from the rest of the world ethically) over his decision to keep workers at Tesla's production facilities, despite virus lockdowns, it appears Elon Musk has folded.
In a statement by the company, Musk says he is suspending activities at his Fremont and New York factories:
In the past few days, we have met with local, state and federal officials. We have followed and are continuing to follow all legal directions and safety guidelines with respect to the operations of our facilities, and have honored the Federal Government’s direction to continue operating. Despite taking all known health precautions, continued operations in certain locations has caused challenges for our employees, their families and our suppliers.
As such, we have decided to temporarily suspend production at our factory in Fremont, from end of day March 23, which will allow an orderly shutdown. Basic operations will continue in order to support our vehicle and energy service operations and charging infrastructure, as directed by the local, state and federal authorities. Our factory in New York will temporarily suspend production as well, except for those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure and critical supply chains. Operations of our others facilities will continue, including Nevada and our service and Supercharging network.
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. Due to the unique over-the-air connectivity of our vehicles, customers are able to unlock their new cars at a delivery parking lot via the Tesla App, sign any remaining relevant paperwork that has been placed in their car, and return that paperwork to an on-site drop-off location prior to leaving. This method provides additional convenience and comfort.
Our cash position at the end of Q4 2019 was $6.3B before our recent $2.3B capital raise. We believe this level of liquidity is sufficient to successfully navigate an extended period of uncertainty. At the end of Q4 2019, we had available credit lines worth approximately $3B including working capital lines for all regions as well as financing for the expansion of our Shanghai factory.
Will his staff be paid?
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Well, it looks like Elon Musk has once again "gotten away with it".
Yesterday, we updated the world on the situation in Alameda County, where despite an order to lockdown all non-essential businesses, Elon Musk has kept his Fremont facility open. The Alameda County Sheriff even took to Twitter to warn that Tesla was "not an essential business" and would be expected to follow the same rules as other businesses in the county.
The sheriff instead said the company can "maintain minimum basic operations per the Alameda County Health Order", which basically means that the company can only maintain its inventory, ensure security and make payroll.
But, as he has done with the SEC and the NHTSA in the past, it appears Musk has happily put the health and safety of his employees to the side and has weaseled his way away from the rules.
The consensus at the end of the day, which for now appears to be the resolution between Musk and the county, is that Tesla is simply going to "reduce staff by 75%" at the Fremont factory, according to the Driven. This would still leave about 2,500 employees on the premises.
We'd bet you a signed dollar that the production line is going to remain up and running.
Meanwhile, Tesla's HR said on Thursday morning that they were handing out masks and taking workers' temperatures before entering the building.
Ray Kelly, the spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, seems to have taken the bait and been made a fool out of: “We had a positive conversation, and it sounds like they are beginning to comply with the health order. In war times, all automakers are considered vital national infrastructure, but this is a different era. This is a health pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the profitable auto companies in the country have taken very different, drastic steps. Fiat Chrysler announced yesterday that it was indefinitely closing a factory after a staff member tested positive for the virus. Nissan said it is suspending production from March 20 to April 6. Honda and Toyota are also shuttering next week.
And this morning, Musk is again back in the headlines for volunteering to make ventilators for the crisis. Just as he solved the Flint water crisis and rescued the trapped soccer team in the Thai cave, we're guessing it's all a PR stunt and that nothing ever materializes. But the media is doing Musk's bidding, again, flooding the web with headlines that make it seem as though Musk wants to help.
Yesterday we wrote an op-ed of sorts wondering if the world would finally catch on to Musk's empty promises. We noted then that a production shut down for Tesla would have real consequences. Despite the fact that Tesla's financials have been a wreck for years, it's been the image of consistent production and deliveries that have put a bid under the stock, with investors seemingly assuming that it would all work its way to the bottom line eventually, Amazon-style.
The stock bid is important because it holds up Musk's entire house of cards, including Tesla's ability to finance itself.
But as we noted yesterday, the company's delivery numbers are now at risk - which is why Musk may have adopted his flippant tone regarding the virus to begin with. So in addition to Tesla investors facing a potential loss of confidence, the world may also be forced to reevaluate how it looks at Musk, who appears to be making production a clear priority over the health and safety of his workers.