Elon Musk heads to China after delaying India trip

  • Elon Musk's visit to China, the second largest market for Tesla was not flagged publicly.
Elon Musk
Elon Musk's visit to China, the second largest market for Tesla was not flagged publicly. (AP)
Elon Musk
Elon Musk's visit to China, the second largest market for Tesla was not flagged publicly.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk was on a flight heading to Beijing on Sunday to kick off a surprise trip in the electric vehicle maker's second-biggest market, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

Musk is seeking to meet senior Chinese officials in Beijing to discuss the rollout of Full-Self Driving (FSD) software in China and to obtain approval to transfer data collected in the country abroad to train algorithms for its autonomous driving technologies, one of the people said.

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Tesla has since 2021 stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai as required by Chinese regulators and has not transferred any back to the United States.

The US EV maker rolled out FSD, the most autonomous version of its Autopilot software, four years ago but has yet to make it available in China despite customers urging it to do so.

Musk said this month Tesla may make FSD available to customers in China "very soon", in response to a query on social media platform X.

Rival Chinese automakers such as Xpeng have been seeking to gain an advantage over Tesla by rolling out similar software.

Musk's visit to China was not flagged publicly and the people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak with media. Tesla did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The trip came just over a week after he scrapped a planned visit to India to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, citing "very heavy Tesla obligations."

The company said this month it would lay off 10% of its global workforce as it grapples with falling sales and an intensifying price war for EVs led by Chinese brands.

Heading to Beijing

A Gulfstream private jet with tail number N272BG, which is registered to Falcon Landing, a company connected to SpaceX and Tesla, was scheduled to land at Beijing Capital Airport at 0544 GMT on Sunday, according to Chinese flight tracking app Flight Manager.

The other jet registered under Falcon Landing is N628TS, which is Musk's main jet that he used to travel to China last year.

Tesla has sold more than 1.7 million cars in China since it entered the market a decade ago and its factory in Shanghai is its largest globally.

Musk's visit coincides with the Beijing autoshow, which opened last week and ends on May 4. Tesla does not have a booth at China's largest autoshow and last attended in 2021.

Grace Tao, Tesla's vice president in charge of external relations in China, published a commentary on the social media account of state media outlet People's Daily on Friday, arguing that autonomous driving technologies would be the new growth engine for EV industry.

Tao said in the article that Tesla was leading autonomous driving research and development with its "end-to-end neural network" technology and data collected from millions of cars on the road.

China's complicated traffic conditions with more pedestrians and cyclists than in many other markets provide more scenarios that are key for training autonomous driving algorithms at a faster pace, according to industry experts.

Musk said last week Tesla would introduce new, cheaper models using its current EV platforms and production lines and would offer a new "robotaxi" with self-driving technology. He said in a post on X this month that he would unveil the robotaxi on Aug. 8.

Tesla shares are down almost a third since the start of the year as concerns have grown about the EV maker's growth trajectory. Last week, Tesla reported its first decline in quarterly revenue since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic slowed production and deliveries.

First Published Date: 28 Apr 2024, 11:31 AM IST

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