Tesla Inc. has signed a preliminary agreement with the city of Shanghai to explore production in China, moving the electric-car maker a step closer to lowering its manufacturing and shipping costs, according to people familiar with the matter.
The agreement was reached Thursday in Shanghai, said the people, who asked not to be identified before the information is made public. A representative for Tesla couldn’t immediately comment. A spokesman for the Shanghai government said he’s seeking information from the relevant departments.
Reaching a deal to produce cars in China would help Tesla better compete with local rivals because it would eliminate a 25 percent import tariff that makes Tesla’s Model S sedans and Model X sport utility vehicles more costly than in U.S. showrooms. The company is scheduled to begin production in July of the Model 3, the cheapest model in the lineup so far.
“The entrance of Tesla into local production is a necessary step for Tesla to gain relevance in the world’s largest EV market,” said Bill Russo, managing director of Gao Feng Advisory Co. and a former head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Chrysler unit in China. “Tesla’s participation thus far has been limited to imported Model S and Model X cars. However, unlocking the mass market will require a price point that is only achievable with a locally produced Model 3.”
China has identified new-energy vehicles as a strategic emerging industry and aims to boost annual sales of plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars 10-fold in the next decade. A total of 507,000 new-energy vehicles including electric cars were sold last year in the country, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. About 15 percent of Tesla’s $7 billion in revenue last year was generated in China, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The Palo Alto, California-based company is close to an accord to produce vehicles in China for the first time, Bloomberg News reported earlier this week. The agreement allows Tesla to build facilities in Shanghai’s Lingang development zone, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Under existing rules, Tesla will also need to set up a joint venture with at least one Chinese company in order to obtain the necessary manufacturing permits.
“It’s just at the right moment for Tesla to localize production because China now has suppliers with world-leading technology,” said Fu Yuwu, president of the government-backed Society of Automotive Engineers of China. “Tesla will also need to develop customized mass-market products for Chinese market, which is unique from the rest of the world.”