Elon Musk has warned California's health officials that their tight regulations on his Tesla factory might well result in the automaker pulling up stakes and moving to another state.
Musk, an industry pioneer, might be disappointed to realize that, if so, he'll be part of an old tradition.
Who hasn't pulled up their California stakes and moved to another state? Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi. They were all there. They all moved east.
California is a hotbed of innovation and progressive thinking. But for automakers, it's an unsolvable riddle. It's a country unto itself, with a population of 40 million people — more consumers than Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands combined. And it's waaaaay over there across the Rockies. Logic would suggest that if you want to sell cars in this giant nation of a state, you really ought to be there.
It's a brave idea. It's just hard as all get-out to make it work.
Remember that Tesla builds cars in a factory that Toyota gave up on. Toyota! Toyota never gives up on anything. Toyota spent years trying to sweet-talk its suppliers into coming waaaaay out to California to build their factories in nearby locations.
Toyota had operated the plant in partnership with General Motors. GM gave up on the joint venture as it dealt with bankruptcy, but it jettisoned the operation because it was only a marginal affair.
And years before that, GM had already given up on the same site before Toyota happened along.
For the record, Tesla was already scouting for a second U.S. vehicle assembly site, and not in California. A lot of Tesla's suppliers are back in the Midwest and have never felt any compunction to go west.
Whatever Musk decides, the bottom line might be this: In terms of branding, California glitters. But in the reality of automaking, it's logistics and operations that shine.