Tesla for India or India for Tesla? The question of if, why and when
Elon Musk has given wings to massive expectations of electric vehicle advocates as well as motoring enthusiasts in India of soon having, driving and owning Tesla vehicles in the country. Such is the cult following enjoyed by Tesla the world over that it becomes as much about the brand 'Tesla' as its electric vehicles that promises to make people line up outside stores.
And yet, the questions really are if Tesla is ready to storm the Indian market and if Indians are ready to indeed line up to lap up Tesla vehicles? If, why and when?
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First, the part about the 'if.'
Musk is the CEO of Tesla. When the CEO of a company states that the company is going to enter a said market, it usually carries a whole lot of credence. Well, unless it is Musk. Not that his words don't have credence, just that the words about an India debut were few and in the form of a tweet which was in reply to a tweet.
"Next year for sure. Thanks for waiting."
Never before have seven words meant so much for the Indian automobile industry which now stands on the cusp of an EV revolution. And yet, many are quick to point out that Musk has often fired from his Twitter handle - which, by the way, has over 39 million followers - without much thought. He's maverick or impulsive, depending on whether you choose to be his admirer or critic. But there is no denying that he has faced backlash for suspect tweets. Here is a man who was asked by US regulators if he was truthful about tweeting that he had secured funding for the largest-ever corporate buyout. He would eventually have to step down from the Tesla board after a settlement with US Securities and Exchange Commission for his tweet about taking Tesla private.
Boardroom backlash on Twitter aside, the point here is Musk's words on Twitter aren't exactly cast in stone.
This props up the second question - the 'why'.
Tesla needs India. India needs Tesla. That's the short answer.
To elaborate, Tesla is determined to drive up its sales volumes across the world in order to justify its share prices which are, for the lack of a more apt description, on a high. Market watchers and industry analysts have repeatedly said that the California-based company will have to keep delivering record sales volumes to maintain that valuation. And while the decision to enter the Chinese market and have its first plant outside of the US here has paid off handsomely - remember, China is the world's largest automobile as well as EV market, India too offers a massive potential for the company to tap.
Musk has already confirmed that Tesla plans to come out with a smaller and more affordable EV than the Model 3 and this could be the perfect product to unleash in a market such as India. Will this be imported? And if so, would the duties and taxes make these mere status symbols?
Either way, India needs Tesla. Let's not compare an Apple with an Orange but with a Tesla. Apple smartphones weren't assembled in India until 2017 but the extremely popular devices were still available here prior to this. In many ways, the dreams and aspirations to own an Apple phone really triggered the flood of Android touchscreen devices. Those who could, bought iPhones. Others chose Android alternatives.
The point is that even if Tesla has to bring in its cars through the completely built unit (CBU) route and the price tag is at a premium, it could make rival car makers consider their EVs for here more seriously than ever before.
While a few like MG, Mahindra, Tata Motors and now Mercedes do have products, others like Volkswagen have gone on record to say the Indian market is just not ready yet. In this sense, what better way to prove India is ready than to have the world's largest EV maker make a grand debut.
All of the above puts the charged spotlight on the question of 'when'.
Alas, that is the big, really big question no one yet has an affirmative answer to. Musk has tweeted 2021 but Tesla hasn't made any official statement. More recently, he tweeted - again to a reply on a tweet - that Tesla cars can be booked starting January. But much like how it is charging an electric vehicle using a wall socket, the key here really lies in giving prominence to patience rather than hustling in hearsay.
The if, why and when aside though, Tesla and India do appear to need each other.