Friday, May 24, 2024

Analysts: Tesla-China EV market race still tough, despite self-driving win

Must read

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s visit this week to Beijing, where he met with Premier Li Qiang and received tentative approval for the full rollout of the company’s complete driver assistance software, has been described in China as the same as receiving a “golden key” to the world’s biggest electric vehicle market.

The pledge from Chinese authorities to relax regulations on Tesla’s full self-driving or FSD feature and an expected loosening of restrictions on where the cars can go in China removes major hurdles for the company.

It also comes as Tesla struggles with an EV price war that has seen its market share shrink.

Analysts say that while the breakthrough in China could help, it may not necessarily be a game changer for the automaker.

Richard Du, founder of Auto Weekly Magazine in Sydney, tells VOA’s Mandarin service that Tesla’s market share in China is likely to decline even further.

“Tesla is making progress, and so are Chinese cars,” Du said. “But Chinese cars are making progress faster than Tesla, and the biggest advantage [Chinese car companies have] is the entire industry chain, especially car batteries. It has various advantages in terms of cost, technology and patents.”

Du said that while Chinese car companies have struggled to match Tesla’s profitability, they have received support from national policies and subsidies.

David Lin, an auto expert and vlogger in Taipei, said Musk can still maintain a leading position in the market if China follows through on the tentative FSD approval and relaxation of regulations, and the market settles down.

“Tesla, of course, must quickly implement FSD software and no longer be involved in the cost-cutting war in the Chinese market,” he said.

Over the past four years, Tesla has offered limited FSD features in China, such as lane-change assist, by subscription, according to Reuters.

Tesla’s Chinese website opens the door for purchasing the FSD software priced at RMB 64,000 (~$9,000), though features such as recognizing and reacting to traffic lights and stop signs and autonomously assisted driving on city streets are still displayed as “coming soon.”

Online Chinese magazine Sina Technology said the approval was like Musk receiving “a golden key from China.”

The report said that leading up to Musk’s visit, Tesla passed a regulatory milestone in China — becoming the only foreign car company on Beijing’s list of intelligent cars compliant with its data security requirements.

That compliance should remove some restrictions on Tesla, allowing its vehicles to enter areas deemed sensitive such as military bases, airports and train stations, reports the Wall Street Journal. There are still questions, however, about whether Tesla might eventually be able to export the data its cars collect in China to help improve its self-driving software. Tesla currently stores that data in China in line with its national security laws.

While Tesla’s FSD software was held back by regulations in recent years, Sina Technology reports that Chinese intelligent driving technology suppliers such as Huawei and Xiaopeng seized the opportunity to introduce their own autopilot-like software features.

Last year, Tesla lost its top spot as the world’s largest electric vehicle maker to China’s BYD, and its vehicle deliveries fell in the first quarter of this year for the first time in four years.

Meanwhile, China overtook Japan to become the world’s largest vehicle exporter, driven by sales to Russia and sales of EVs and hybrids.

The FSD approval reflects increasingly close relations between Musk and the country’s communist leaders.

Premier Li Qiang, whom he met Sunday, helped Tesla set up its Shanghai factory, now its biggest in the world, when he was the city’s Communist Party secretary.

Musk has repeatedly expressed goodwill toward China in recent days, calling himself a “fan of China” and saying he is happy to see its development of electric vehicles.

At the end of his trip to China, Musk posted on his platform X, formerly Twitter, on April 30 that the long-awaited launch date of Tesla’s Robotaxi — a completely self-driving vehicle — is set for August 8.

“I did partly pick it because 8/8 is a lucky number in China! Also, the birthday of my triplets, who are now 17,” he wrote.

The number eight in Chinese is seen as lucky because it sounds similar to the word for prosperity and wealth.

China’s low priced EVs have prompted the U.S. and Europe to enact tariffs and other measures to prevent Chinese carmakers from taking over their domestic markets.

They’ve also put Musk in the awkward position of advocating restrictions on importing China-made cars to the U.S., Tesla’s largest market, while lobbying Chinese authorities for support and promoting his made-in-China cars for European markets.

Latest article