Musk Says China Possible Top Market for Tesla

Musk Says China Possible Top Market for Tesla

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA)’s Elon Musk said sales of electric Model S cars in China should match U.S. levels as early as next year, with demand from the world’s largest auto market eventually requiring a local plant.

The electric-car maker said yesterday the Model S will be priced from 734,000 yuan ($121,280) in China when deliveries begin. Musk, Tesla’s billionaire co-founder and chief executive officer, will travel to China in late March to inaugurate the company’s entry there, he said in a phone interview.

For Tesla, “it could be as big as the U.S. market, maybe bigger. I don’t want to get overexcited about it,” Musk said yesterday. “Even without building there locally, it’s always going to be the second-biggest market after the U.S.”

After a rocky start ramping up Model S assembly in 2012, Palo Alto, California-based Tesla surprised analysts and investors this month when it said fourth-quarter deliveries were 20 percent above its target. Musk, 42, has pinned his goal of selling hundreds of thousands of electric autos annually to a global strategy in which China, Europe, Japan and other markets bolster its U.S. business.

If all goes well, Model S shipments to China can match U.S. sales by 2015, Musk said. “It’s not my firm prediction — it’s more like a low-fidelity guess.”

The company named for inventor Nikola Tesla more than quadrupled in value in 2013. Tesla rose 1.6 percent to $181.50 yesterday in New York, the highest in three months. The shares have gained 13 percent since Jan. 14, when it announced quarterly deliveries.

Pricing Comparison

The price of Tesla’s flagship Model S in China, a version equipped with a premium 85 kilowatt hour battery pack, puts it in the same bracket there as Volkswagen AG (VOW)’s Audi S5 sedan and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s 5-series GT sedan, according to Autohome, a car-pricing website. It’s also 50 percent more expensive than in the U.S., where the equivalent model sells for $81,070, according to a Tesla statement.

In the U.S., Audi’s S5 is priced at $64,117 and BMW’s 5-series GT costs $70,429, according to Edmunds.com, a Santa Monica, California-based auto pricing and data company.

While more costly than the U.S. version, the Model S price in China appears “well below expectations,” John Lovallo, an equity analyst for Bank of America who rates Tesla underperform, said yesterday in a research note.

Since the Model S is imported to China from California, a duty of as much as 25 percent is added to the price tag, Musk said. The company also must cover shipping costs and taxes. Tesla could have charged more than $160,000 had it followed standard industry practices.

‘Huge Idiots’

“They’re basically calling us huge idiots for not ripping off customers in China.” Musk said. “I don’t think ripping off customers is a good long-term strategy.”

Foreign companies have come under scrutiny in China for their pricing practices, with state broadcaster China Central Television producing reports accusing companies from Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar Land Rover to Starbucks Corp. of overcharging consumers in the country.

“It’s a good price,” John Zeng, Shanghai-based managing director of researcher LMC Automotive, said of Tesla’s Model S. “This should attract premium customers to try this product, especially in big cities.”

Tesla’s entry is also being closely watched by other automakers that have been trying to convince local consumers that electric vehicles are worth the hassle. China is lagging behind its target to have 5 million alternative energy-powered vehicles by 2020 because of a lack of charging stations and high costs, even amid mounting concerns over worsening air pollution.

Rigorous Standards

Gaining China’s approval to sell Model S there was the toughest the company has faced to date, Musk said.

“They were the most rigorous of any in the world,” he said.

Beyond safety issues, government officials even inspected the leather used in Model S seats, Musk said. “They seemed to be quite concerned about quality.”

To eliminate tariffs and potentially qualify for Chinese incentives for non-pollution autos, Tesla must produce there, he said.

“Long-term there’s no question we’ll have a factory in China,” he said. “There is an argument for having that be our first major factory outside the U.S.”

At Tesla’s flagship store in a Beijing mall populated by high-end boutiques such as Van Cleef & Arpels and Mulberry, hotelier Kevin Chen says he’s interested in buying the Model S to bump up his green credentials.

“I heard about the car from my friends overseas and we are very interested in getting one,” said Chen, a 28. “Smog in China is getting so bad that we should do whatever we can to help.”

— with assistance from Alexandra Ho in Shanghai and Tian Ying in Beijing. Editors: Niamh Ring, Jamie Butters, Ben Livesey

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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