Tesla will move its headquarters from California to Austin, Texas, where it is building a new factory, its chief executive, Elon Musk, said at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Thursday.
The move makes good on a threat that Musk issued more than a year ago when he was frustrated by local coronavirus lockdown orders that forced Tesla to pause production at its factory in Fremont. Musk on Thursday said the company would keep that factory and expand production there.
“There’s a limit to how big you can scale in the Bay Area,” he said, adding that high housing prices there translate to long commutes for some employees. The Texas factory, which is near Austin and will manufacture Tesla’s Cybertruck, is minutes from downtown and from an airport, he said.
Musk was an outspoken early critic of pandemic restrictions, calling them “fascist” and predicting in March 2020 that there would be almost no new cases of virus infections by the end of April. In December, he said he had moved himself to Texas to be near the new factory. His other company, SpaceX, launches rockets from the state.
The company is on track to sell about a million cars this year and is planning a major expansion. In addition to the Austin factory, Tesla is building one near Berlin. Its headquarters have been in Palo Alto for more than a decade.
Tesla is one of several California companies to say they were moving to Texas in recent months. Hewlett Packard Enterprise said in December that it was moving to the Houston area, and Charles Schwab has moved to a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Musk’s decision will surely add fuel to a ceaseless debate between officials and executives in Texas and California about which state is a better place to do business. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, and his predecessors, have courted California companies to move to the state, arguing that it has lower taxes and lower housing and other costs. California has long played up the technological prowess of Silicon Valley and its universities as the reason many entrepreneurs start and build their companies there, a list that includes Tesla, Facebook, Google and Apple.
Texas has become more attractive to workers in recent years, too, with a generally lower cost of living. Austin, a thriving liberal city that is home to the University of Texas, in particular has boomed. Many technology companies, some based in California, have built huge campuses there. As a result, though, housing costs and traffic have increased significantly, leaving the city with the kinds of problems local governments in California have been dealing with for years.
Musk’s announcement is likely to take on political overtones, too.
Last month, Abbott invoked Musk in explaining why a new Texas law that greatly restricts abortion would not hurt the state economically. “Elon consistently tells me that he likes the social policies in the state of Texas,” the governor told CNBC.
When asked for a response, Musk did not confirm or deny what Abbott said. “In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness,” he said on Twitter. “That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.”
On Thursday evening, a Twitter post by Abbott welcomed the news, saying “the Lone Star State is the land of opportunity and innovation.”
A spokeswoman for Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, Erin Mellon, did not directly comment on Tesla’s move but said in a statement that the state was “home to the biggest ideas and companies on the planet” and that California would “stand up for workers, public health and a woman’s right to choose.”
Musk revealed the company’s move after shareholders voted on a series of proposals aimed at improving Tesla’s corporate governance. According to preliminary results, investors sided with Tesla on all but two measures that it opposed: one that would force its board members to run for re-election annually, down from every three years, and another that would require the company to publish more detail about efforts to diversify its work force.
In a report last year, Tesla revealed that its U.S. leadership was 59 percent white and 83 percent male. The company’s overall U.S. work force is 79 percent male and 34 percent white.
The vote comes days after a federal jury ordered Tesla to pay $137 million to Owen Diaz, a former contractor who said he faced repeated racist harassment while working at the Fremont factory, in 2015 and 2016. Tesla faces similar accusations from dozens of others in a class-action lawsuit.
The diversity report proposal, from Calvert Research and Management, a firm that focuses on responsible investment and is owned by Morgan Stanley, requires Tesla to publish annual reports about its diversity and inclusion efforts, something many other large companies already do.
Investors also re-elected to the board Kimbal Musk, Musk’s brother, and James Murdoch, the former 21st Century Fox executive, despite a recommendation to vote against them by ISS, a firm that advises investors on shareholder votes and corporate governance.
Proposals calling for additional reporting both on Tesla’s practice of using mandatory arbitration to resolve employee disputes and on the human rights impact of how it sources materials failed, according to early results. A final tally will be announced in the coming days, the company said.
Niraj Chokshi is a reporter with The New York Times. Ivan Penn contributed reporting. Copyright, 2021, The New York Times.