A Chinese factory would give Tesla some cover in an extended US-China trade war. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, currently traveling in Asia, signed an agreement Tuesday with officials in Shanghai to build a factory with the capacity to produce up to 500,000 vehicles per year. Shanghai officials describe it as the largest foreign-funded manufacturing project in Shanghai history. The deal comes in the midst of an increasingly bitter trade war between the United States and China. A 25 percent Chinese tariff on US-made cars recently forced Tesla to raise the Chinese price of the Model S and Model X. Having a Chinese factory would help Tesla avoid these taxes, as it could manufacture cars in China and then sell the cars directly to Chinese consumers—or to customers in Asian countries with good trade relationships to China. Tesla's China project was first reported by Bloomberg. A Tesla spokesperson confirmed the news to Ars Technica. "Last year, we announced that we were working with the Shanghai Municipal Government to explore the possibility of establishing a factory in the region to serve the Chinese market," Tesla said in a press statement. " Today, we have signed a Cooperative Agreement for Tesla to start building Gigafactory 3, a new electric vehicle manufacturing facility in Shanghai." After obtaining the necessary permits, Tesla says, "it will take roughly two years until we start producing vehicles. " It will take another two to three years for the factory to ramp up to a full 500,000 vehicles per year. Of course, Tesla has a history of setting overly optimistic deadlines. At the end of June, Tesla finally reached a production rate of 5,000 vehicles per week in its Fremont factory, a milestone the company had previously aimed to reach at the end of 2017. Industry analyst and dogged Tesla critic Ed Niedermeyer tweeted that "two years from zero to production is bonkers," noting that car companies traditionally take longer than that to build and begin operating a new factory. So while Tesla may be aiming to start producing cars in China in 2020, we won't be surprised if the schedule slips by a year or two.
It's a way to sidestep the current trade war between the US and China. That didn't take long: Days after Tesla raised prices to offset import tariffs in China, the company has announced it has reached an agreement with the government in Shanghai to produce vehicles in the region. According to Bloomberg, it'll rival production of Tesla's sole factory in the US, with capacity to build 500,000 cars per year. It apparently won't be the only plant revealed in 2018, as the company teased that details for a European production facility would be discussed later this year. Over the weekend, Tesla raised prices on the Model S and Model X by over $20,000 (depending on configuration) as a result of the ongoing trade war between the US and China. While there previously was a 25 percent import tax, it didn't stop the region from buying Tesla's cars. Last year the automaker sold 14,779 vehicles in the country, and the country represented almost 20 percent of Tesla's revenue. Then China raised the import duties for American-made vehicles by an additional 15 percent as a response to President Trump's trade war. It isn't entirely clear what Tesla will build at the factory, but Musk has previously hinted that it'd likely be a site for Model 3 and Model Y (the company's crossover vehicle) production. Those cars still need batteries, though, and Tesla's lone battery factory is in Nevada. Musk has been talking about building a plant in China long before Trump added 25 percent import duties to over 1,300 Chinese products including steel, iron and touchscreens. The move will cut down on shipping fees, for starters, but it will also help Musk reach the production numbers and profitability he's been chasing for years. Harley Davidson recently did something similar. As a means of sidestepping the trade war Trump started with Europe by adding tariffs to imported aluminum and steel, the company announced that it'd shift production of motorcycles destined for European customers to the continent. Now to see how fast Tesla can build in China and if the factory will be up and running before this trade war ends. Update: A Tesla spokesperson reached out to offer the following statement: "Last year, we announced that we were working with the Shanghai Municipal Government to explore the possibility of establishing a factory in the region to serve the Chinese market. Today, we have signed a Cooperative Agreement for Tesla to start building Gigafactory 3, a new electric vehicle manufacturing facility in Shanghai. We expect construction to begin in the near future, after we get all the necessary approvals and permits. From there, it will take roughly two years until we start producing vehicles and then another two to three years before the factory is fully ramped up to produce around 500,000 vehicles per year for Chinese customers. Tesla is deeply committed to the Chinese market, and we look forward to building even more cars for our customers here. Today's announcement will not impact our U.S. manufacturing operations, which continue to grow."
( Reuters) — Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk on Tuesday landed a deal with Chinese authorities to build a new auto plant in Shanghai, its first factory outside the United States, that would double the size of the electric car makers global manufacturing. The deal was announced as Tesla raised prices on U.S.-made vehicles it sells in China to offset the cost of new tariffs imposed by the Chinese government in retaliation for U.S. President Donald Trumps heavier duties on Chinese goods. Musk was in Shanghai Tuesday, and the Shanghai government in a statement said it welcomed Teslas move to invest not only in a new factory in the city, a center of the Chinese auto industry, but in research and development, as well. China has long pushed to capture more of the talent and capital invested by global automakers in advanced electric vehicle technology. Tesla plans to produce the first cars about two years after construction begins on its Shanghai factory, ramping up to as many as 500,000 vehicles a year about two to three years later, the company said. That would make Teslas Shanghai plant large by auto industry standards, where most factories are tooled to build 200,000 to 300,000 vehicles a year, and roughly equivalent to the planned annual production at Teslas plant in Fremont, California. Tesla shares rose 1.5 percent in U.S. trading even as some analysts questioned where the money-losing company will get the capital required to build and staff such a large plant. Musk has said Tesla will be cash-flow positive this year. Analysts have predicted it will raise capital to fund a list of new projects, including launching an electric semi truck, a pickup truck, a compact SUV and new battery and vehicle production facilities that Musk has proposed for China and Europe. I am sure that Tesla needs fresh money at the latest next year, said Frank Schwope, an analyst with NORD/LB. The Shanghai government suggested it could help with some of the capital costs. The Shanghai municipal government will fully support the construction of the Tesla factory, its statement said. Tesla said Tuesdays announcement will not impact U.S. manufacturing operations, which continue to grow. China is the largest market for electric vehicles, and most forecasters predict that electric vehicle sales in the country will accelerate rapidly as government regulation drives toward a goal of 100-percent electric vehicles by 2030. More than 28 million vehicles were sold in China last year, and annual sales are forecast to top 35 million by 2025. That would be more than double the current U.S. market, where new light vehicle sales run at about 17 million vehicles a year. Musk was talking about building a Chinese factory long before the Trump administration proposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods. China until recently levied 25-percent tariffs on imported cars, and for decades automakers have been moving to build more vehicles in the markets where they are sold to neutralize currency shifts and trade policy reversals. Chinese authorities decision to grant Tesla permission to move forward lands as President Trump is fighting to stop U.S. manufacturers from responding to his trade policy by shifting production overseas, as U.S. motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson said it would do last month. Against the backdrop of trade conflict with Washington, China is using its power to draw investment from the global auto industry. German automakers on Monday and Tuesday dominated a list of deals between China and Germany focused on the development of electric vehicles and technology for connectivity and self-driving cars. BMW agreed with partner Brilliance Automotive to up production capacity at joint venture BMW Brilliance Automotive to 520,000 BMW brand vehicles in 2019. Capacity at BMW Brilliance Automotives two production sites will outstrip BMWs U.S. plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for the first time. BMW said last week it would be unable to fully absorb a new Chinese 25-percent tariff on imported U.S.-made models and would have to raise prices on the vehicles it makes in Spartanburg. Volkswagen, meanwhile, said it will cooperate with Chinas FAW Group on technologies including e-mobility, connectivity and autonomous cars. Tesla has been in protracted negotiations to open its own factory in China to help bolster its position in the countrys fast-growing market for electric cars and to avoid high import tariffs. Tesla hiked prices in China over the weekend to a level more than 70 percent higher than in the United States amid mounting trade frictions between Washington and Beijing that have seen several U.S. imports, including cars, subjected to retaliatory tariffs of 25 percent. Musk had previously criticized Chinas tough auto rules for foreign businesses, which would have required it to cede a 50-percent share in the factory. After China announced in May that it planned to scrap by 2022 the rules on capping foreign ownership of new-energy vehicle ventures, Tesla registered a new electric car firm in Shanghai. The Shanghai plant will certainly improve Teslas positioning in China and allow it to locally produce and avoid import tariffs. The relaxation of the 50/50 rule for JVs in China uniquely benefits Tesla because they did not have an existing JV in China as rivals do, said Tasha Keeney, an analyst with ARK Invest.