No one knows what is going to happen with the “easy to win” tariff war initiated by America’s putative president over a year ago, least of all him. What we do know, however, is that China has agreed to grant all Tesla vehicles an exemption from the 10% purchase tax that all new car buyers normally pay.
According to Reuters, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the exemption on August 30. The change marks an important concession amidst trade tensions with the United States. On average, the exemption will lower the cost of buying a new Tesla by 99,000 yuan, or about $13,957, according to a post on Tesla’s social media WeChat account.
All 16 variants of the Tesla Model S, Model X, and Model 3 offered for sale to Chinese customers are listed in a document detailing the exemption on the MIIT website. No reason was given for the decision to exclude the cars from the tax, but it does come at a time when Tesla is expanding in China by building a new factory in the Free Trade Zone outside Shanghai.
Leading up to the start of production at that factory, Elon Musk has visited China several times. He has publicly praised China in the midst of tensions with the United States and thanked the Shanghai and national governments for their support.
Musk has met with senior leaders, including China’s Vice President Wang Qishan and the transportation minister. He has called national leaders “very thoughtful” and alluded to China’s “amazing” progress in sustainable energy, transport, and space exploration. “This year they did more orbital launches than the USA for the first time,” Musk tweeted last December.
Craig Irwin, an analyst for Roth Capital, tells Reuters, “It is pretty clear Tesla is committed to China, with the investment in the Shanghai Gigafactory. Those relationships probably helped Tesla lobby for a successful exemption from the tax. Now we need to closely watch the build out of the Shanghai Gigafactory and Model 3 volume ramp in China.”
While Tesla does not disclose sales by country, consulting firm LMC Automotive estimates the company sold 23,678 cars in China in the first seven months of this year, which is nearly double the number it sold in 2018.
Also on Friday, Tesla announced it is raising the price of the cars it sells in China by 2% to offset the weakening of the yuan in recent weeks. The long range dual motor Model 3 is now 439,900 yuan ($61,467), up from 429,900 yuan ($60,070) previously. But the net effect is that, after the purchase tax exemption, Tesla will cost a Chinese customer considerably less to buy this week than it did last week. Tesla stock was up 4% following the exemption announcement.
Tesla is clearly betting heavily on China, which only makes sense since its new car market is the largest in the world and its electric car market accounts for approximately half of global electric car sales. It’s true that sales are not quite as robust this year as they have been in previous years, but there will still be more than 22 million new cars sold in China this year, even in a down market, with perhaps 8% of those being plug-in car sales.
With its close ties to the national and local governments, Tesla should be well positioned to sell as many cars in China as it can manufacture. We’ll keep you informed via our regular China EV sales reports.
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