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Tesla goes big in China, strikes deal for plant with 500,000-car capacity

13 July 2018 - Autoblog

Tesla goes big in China, strikes deal for plant with 500,000-car capacity

Elon Musk is in Shanghai for the announcement

Tesla Inc Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk on Tuesday landed a deal with Chinese authorities to build a new auto plant in Shanghai, its first factory outside the United States, that would double the size of the electric car maker's global manufacturing.

The deal was announced as Tesla raised prices on U.S.-made vehicles it sells in China to offset the cost of new tariffs imposed by the Chinese government in retaliation for U.S. President Donald Trump's move to slap heavier duties on Chinese goods.

Musk was in Shanghai Tuesday, and the Shanghai government in a statement said it welcomed Tesla's move to invest not only in a new factory in the city, a center of the Chinese auto industry, but in research and development, as well. China has long pushed to capture more of the talent and capital invested by global automakers in advanced electric vehicle technology.

Tesla plans to producing the first cars about two years after construction begins on its Shanghai factory, ramping up to as many as 500,000 vehicles a year about two to three years after that, the company said.

That would make Tesla's Shanghai plant large by auto industry standards, where most factories are tooled to build 200,000 to 300,000 vehicles a year, and roughly equivalent to the planned annual production at Tesla's plant in Fremont, California.

Tesla shares rose 1.5 percent in early U.S. trading, even as some analysts questioned where the money-losing company will get the capital required to build and staff such a large plant.

Musk has said Tesla will be cash-flow positive this year. Analysts have predicted the company will raise capital to fund a list of new projects, including launching an electric semi truck, a pickup truck, a compact SUV and new battery and vehicle production facilities that Musk has proposed for China and Europe.

"I am sure that Tesla needs fresh money at the latest next year," said Frank Schwope, an analyst with NORD/LB.

In its statement, the Shanghai government suggested it could help with some of the capital costs. "The Shanghai municipal government will fully support the construction of the Tesla factory," the statement said.

Tuesday's announcement will not impact U.S. manufacturing operations, which continue to grow, Tesla said.

Musk was talking about building a Chinese factory long before the Trump administration proposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods. China until recently levied 25-percent tariffs on imported cars, and for decades automakers have been moving to build more vehicles in the markets where they will be sold to neutralize the risk of currency shifts and trade policy reversals.

China is the largest market for electric vehicles, and most forecasters predict that electric vehicle sales in the country will accelerate rapidly as government regulation drives toward a goal of 100 percent electric vehicles by 2030.

China is the world's largest auto market overall, with more than 28 million vehicles sold last year, and annual sales are forecast to top 35 million by 2025. That level would be more than double the current U.S. market, where new light vehicle sales run at about 17 million vehicles a year.

Still, the Chinese authorities' decision to grant Tesla permission to move forward lands as President Trump is fighting to stop U.S. manufacturers from responding to his trade policy by shifting production overseas, as U.S. motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson said it would do last month.

Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The signing was held at Shanghai's Fairmont Peace Hotel but media attendance was limited, a Shanghai government official who declined to give his name told Reuters. Tesla's Chief Executive Elon Musk attended the signing, according to a Reuters witness. Bloomberg reported on Monday that Musk will visit Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday.

Tesla has been in protracted negotiations to open its own factory in China to help bolster its position in the country's fast-growing market for electric cars and to avoid high import tariffs.

Tesla hiked prices in China over the weekend to a level more than 70 percent higher than in the United States amid mounting trade frictions between Washington and Beijing that have seen several U.S. imports, including cars, become subjected to retaliatory tariffs of 25 percent.

Musk had previously criticized China's tough auto rules for foreign businesses, which would have required it to cede a 50-percent share in the factory. The company was keen to maintain control of its plant and protect its technology.

It registered a new electric car firm in Shanghai in May after China announced that it planned to scrap rules on capping foreign ownership of new-energy vehicle (NEV) ventures by 2022.

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