By Rebecca Ballhaus and Tim Higgins 

President Trump has backed Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk's decision to resume production of cars at its California plant, siding with the electric-vehicle maker over the local government in a high-profile standoff as parts of the state consider reopening.

Mr. Trump weighed in on Twitter Tuesday, writing: "California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely!"

A day earlier, Mr. Musk tweeted that Tesla would restart production in violation of coronavirus lockdown rules set by Alameda County, where the Silicon Valley auto maker has its lone U.S. car factory. The facility manufactures the company's bestselling Model 3 compact car and is where more than 10,000 people are employed.

"I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me," the Tesla chief executive said on Twitter. The company stopped production at the Fremont, Calif., factory on March 23.

The county health department said Monday that it had notified the company that it could only maintain "minimum basic operations" until its plan to reopen received approval. The company was expected to submit a site-specific plan Monday, the county said.

"We hope that Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures," the county said in a statement.

Alameda County had 75 Covid-19-linked fatalities, according to California data updated Monday, out of 2,770 for the entire state. The California figures show the county has been one of the state's hardest-hit regions and in the one with the most deaths from the disease in the immediate Bay Area.

Mr. Trump in recent weeks has begun escalating pressure on state and local governments around the country to start reopening after months of sheltering in place due to the pandemic. The president has repeatedly indicated he fears the economic toll of shutting down will be greater than the harm caused by virus, which has infected more than 1.3 million and killed more than 80,000 in the U.S.

The push to reopen Tesla also comes as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's leading infectious diseases doctor, warned that the country faces "needless suffering and death" if the nation reopens too early during the pandemic.

Tesla on Saturday filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to overturn the county's order that idled U.S. production of its Model 3 car and other vehicles.

Mr. Musk and the president both frequently turn to Twitter to argue their cases in public. Mr. Trump has frequently praised Mr. Musk and has paid attention to his Twitter account. Earlier this year, Mr. Trump hailed Mr. Musk as one of the world's "great geniuses," equating him to Thomas Edison.

They haven't always gotten along. In 2017, Mr. Musk stepped down from high-profile White House advisory groups shortly after the president said the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Mr. Musk said he made a mission of Tesla to popularize electric vehicles as part of an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

More recently, the CEO and president have found common ground in other areas, such as promoting U.S.-based manufacturing. Mr. Trump was the first to suggest Tesla would build a new factory in the U.S., something Mr. Musk later confirmed he was aiming to do somewhere in the middle of America.

In recent days, as Mr. Musk has intensified his fight with local government authorities, the CEO has used language similar to that raised in protests elsewhere in the nation against lockdown rules, including saying that such orders violates civil liberties. Mr. Musk on Twitter has said people should be given back their freedom, a message Mr. Trump also has shared on the social-media platform.

Mr. Musk has argued that the infection rate of Covid-19 is low and the damage being done to the economy by remaining shutdown is greater than the virus.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 12, 2020 12:54 ET (16:54 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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