Elon Musk has described lockdowns as “forcibly imprisoning people in their homes” and “fascist” in outspoken comments during an earnings call for his electric car company Tesla.
Tesla had initially resisted efforts by California authorities to shut its plant in the San Francisco Bay area under the restrictions until agreeing on 19 March to suspend production.
Mr Musk’s comments overshadowed results showing better than expected sales volumes of 88,400 during the January-March period and a profit of $16m – Tesla’s third straight quarter in the black after a long run of losses.
His intervention underscored the massive impact that coronavirus lockdowns are having across the US economy, hours after it reported the biggest three-month decline in GDP since 2008 and is expected to be heading for a severe recession.
Mr Musk said he did not know when Tesla could resume production in California and called the state’s stay-at-home order a “serious risk” to the business.
He added: “To say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist.
“This is not democratic, this is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom!
“So the extension of the shelter-in-place or, frankly, I would call it, forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights, in my opinion, breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country.
“It will cause great harm, not just to Tesla, but to any companies.
“And while Tesla will weather the storm, there are many small companies that will not.”
Mr Musk’s comments contrasted with those of fellow tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, as he presented latest results for Facebook.
Mr Zuckerberg said: “I worry that reopening certain places too quickly before infection rates have been reduced to very minimal levels will almost guarantee future outbreaks and worse longer-term health and economic outcomes.”
Mr Musk’s latest comments are not the first time he has stirred controversy during an earnings call.
In 2018, he refused to answer analysts’ questions, saying that “boring, bonehead questions are not cool” – later apologising for his remarks.