Musk leaves China with new security clearance for Tesla

By Oliver Hotham and Luna Lin

Tesla boss Elon Musk boarded a plane departing Beijing on Monday, after a whistlestop China visit during which the firm secured a key security clearance for the world’s biggest electric car market.

Elon Musk. Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED Conference, via Flickr.

Musk arrived on Sunday for his second trip to China in less than a year, meeting top officials including Premier Li Qiang as he worked to boost Tesla’s fortunes in the face of intense competition from local electric-vehicle makers such as BYD.

On the same day, the US EV giant’s locally produced models were listed among the EVs that meet China’s data security requirements for smart cars, clearing a key regulatory hurdle.

Musk boarded his private jet at Beijing Capital Airport just before 1:00 pm (0500 GMT), and a Chinese flight tracking app said it was bound for Anchorage, Alaska.

Despite the growing market share of domestic automakers, Teslas remain among the best-selling EVs in China.

The firm has been working to boost sales through its “Full Self Driving” (FSD) features, which need to be compliant with strict data and privacy laws.

It appeared to inch closer to that approval by teaming up with Chinese tech titan Baidu for maps and navigation, Bloomberg reported Monday.

These advanced assisted driving features do not make its cars fully autonomous, and Tesla says its autopilot and FSD capabilities are meant to be used under driver supervision.

It sells FSD to Tesla owners for US$8,000 in the United States, or for a US$99 monthly subscription.

Tesla did not immediately respond to AFP queries about FSD in China and the reported partnership with Baidu.

Earlier this month, in response to a question on his social media platform X, Musk said FSD availability in China “may be possible very soon”.

Tesla Model 3.Tesla Model 3.
Tesla Model 3. File photo: Tesla, via X.

That report came a day after the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y were compliant with data security laws.

CAAM, which tested vehicles with a national computer security regulator, said in a statement that the approved models satisfied rules on the collection and processing of personal data, including the recordings of faces outside the car.

FSD ‘no guarantee’

FSD could help Tesla cars stand out in a Chinese market awash with models that offer customers a wide variety of connected and smart features, analysts said.

Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y “have become uncompetitive”, said Tu Le, the founder and managing director of Sino Auto Insights.

“There’s still no guarantee of additional sales but without FSD, Tesla has nothing new to offer consumers who are now used to seeing refreshes on EVs every 6-9 months.”

The cost of FSD on top of Tesla cars’ retail price may prove to be another hurdle for consumers.

“Tesla’s FSD is not free… There doesn’t seem to be much willingness among current Chinese Tesla owners to pay for and use it,” Zhong Shi, an analyst with the China Automobile Dealers Association, told AFP.

“Many Chinese car companies offer similar features for free or at discounted prices, so users are willing to try it because it doesn’t add to their financial burden.”

Musk and Tesla’s China efforts reflect the importance of the hugely lucrative market for foreign automakers.

close up of toyota emblemclose up of toyota emblem
A close-up shot of Toyota emblem. Photo: Erik Mclean/ Pexels.com.

Two Japanese car giants last week said they would team up with Chinese tech firms to enhance their artificial intelligence capabilities.

Toyota said it would join hands with gaming giant Tencent on AI to try and capitalise on Chinese consumers’ growing appetite for advanced smart features in the cars it sells in China.

Like other foreign manufacturers, Toyota has struggled to keep up in the ultra-competitive Chinese market, especially as it shifts to electric.

Toyota competitor Nissan also said it would work with Baidu in the same field, cooperating on AI research and to use the Chinese search engine giant’s AI tech in cars for the local market.

Dateline:

Beijing, China

Type of Story: News Service

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