Musk makes surprise China visit as Tesla seeks Beijing’s OK for FSD software


Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk made an unannounced trip to China on Sunday and met Premier Li Qiang, a week after postponing a visit to India to handle pressing issues at the automaker.

China’s No. 2 official met Musk in Beijing just hours after he touched down in the city. Li said the nation is always open to foreign companies, adding that Tesla is a successful example of China-US trade cooperation, according to China Central Television.

Musk’s latest China visit comes during a volatile time for Tesla, with slowing EV sales prompting a cost-cutting drive and the reduction of more than 10% of its global workforce. He was scheduled to be in India on April 21 and 22 for a much-anticipated visit that was going to include a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but called it off because of “very heavy Tesla obligations.”

CCTV said Musk told Li that Tesla is willing to deepen cooperation with China. The CEO earlier met the head of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, Ren Hongbin, according to CCTV. He’s expected to meet officials to discuss the rollout of Tesla’s driver-assistance system, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

A Gulfstream registered to SpaceX landed in Beijing at about 2 p.m. local time. Reuters earlier reported Musk’s plans to discuss Tesla’s software during the visit.

Tesla is working on getting the system it calls Full Self-Driving, or FSD, approved for new markets. Its vehicles have been banned from China’s military compounds and some other government venues in the past over cameras used for its driver-assistance systems, which aren’t capable of autonomous driving.

“We plan on, with the approval of the regulators, releasing it as a supervised autonomy system in any market that — where we can get regulatory approval for that, which we think includes China,” Musk said of FSD during Tesla’s April 23 earnings call. 

Advanced driver-assistance systems, or ADAS, are becoming increasingly common in China’s EV market, where Tesla is losing share. Many local players including Xpeng Inc., Xiaomi Corp. and Huawei Technologies Co. use sophisticated technology as a selling point for their vehicles, while industrywide price cuts by rivals add pressure for the US company to do the same.

Li visited the Beijing Auto Show on Sunday and said China has a leading position in the new energy vehicles industry, China National Radio reported. He urged industry players to maintain their competitive advantages and vowed to ensure a level playing field for foreign companies in the market.

Tesla, the world’s biggest seller of fully electric cars, has repeatedly reduced prices in key markets including the US and China. Investors overlooked dismal earnings last week as the company pledged to launch lower-cost EVs as soon as late this year.

Tesla’s Shanghai factory, established in 2019, is the company’s most productive plant globally, a point Musk made to Li on Sunday as he praised “the hard work and wisdom of the Chinese team,” CCTV said.

China media reported that Tesla axed all Chinese graduate offers in its latest round of job cuts.

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