Tesla’s sales in China have hit a new monthly high just as Elon Musk garnered praise from Beijing for proposing to resolve the geopolitical crisis over Taiwan by placing it in a special administrative zone similar to Hong Kong.
The US electric vehicle maker reported sales of 83,000 cars in September, up 8 per cent from the previous month, according to the China Passenger Car Association. The record monthly tally suggested supply chain bottlenecks in the country were easing and upgrades at its Shanghai facility were boosting production.
The strong performance comes at a critical juncture for Musk and his relationship with China. After receiving special treatment from Chinese regulators in the late 2010s, Tesla’s grip on the luxury EV market is being loosened by a clutch of local rivals.
Separately, over the weekend Beijing praised comments Musk made on Taiwan in an interview with the Financial Times. China’s ambassador to the US thanked Musk for the remark, saying in a tweet that the proposal was “the best approach to realising national reunification”.
Beijing has offered Taiwan a “one country, two systems” policy as a route to unification with China. However, Beijing has not ruled out annexing the island by force.
Under the one country, two systems model, Hong Kong was guaranteed a high degree of autonomy, although critics say this has since been eroded by a new national security law for the territory.
Bi-khim Hsiao, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador in Washington, responded: “Our freedom and democracy are not for sale.”
Tesla’s sales data follow a bruising period for the carmaker’s stock, which has fallen almost 16 per cent in October and more than 36 per cent year to date.
Analysts have been monitoring for signs that Tesla’s growth is slowing in China against the backdrop of rising competition and geopolitical tensions.
“We believe Tesla is passing through its ‘peak China’ dependency stage over the next 12 months,” Morgan Stanley analysts said in a recent note. “Tesla China is facing its biggest ever competition in China from domestic Chinese EV companies.”
They added that they expected a “natural dilution” of Tesla’s position in China as the company fell in line with US and EU efforts to reduce reliance on Chinese industry.
Tesla’s September sales were less than half of more than 201,000 vehicles sold by rival BYD, though many of the Chinese carmaker’s models are plug-in hybrid vehicles, which use a large battery in addition to a traditional engine for longer journeys.
Chinese automakers, including Geely, BAIC, SAIC and Changan Automobile, are launching their own premium EV brands. Shanghai-based Nio has also targeted the top end of China’s EV market with luxury models. It sold 10,878 cars in September, a nearly 30 per cent jump year on year.
Tesla is confronting rising geopolitical tensions in China. Musk’s plan to buy Twitter has sparked concern, including from rival tech billionaire Jeff Bezos, that Tesla’s dependence on Chinese manufacturing for about a third of its business exposes him to pressure from Beijing over censorship.
Beijing, which enforces strict online censorship and internet controls, has also sought assurances that Musk’s commercial rocket and satellite business SpaceX — which has been used to provide internet access in Ukraine and Iran — will not be deployed in China.