Opinion: Tesla and India is the right thing at the wrong time

Elon Musk and Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister

Tesla and India will not be working together any time soon, as new reports now indicate that Tesla has pulled its team responsible for entrance into the Indian market to other regions. Tesla and India might be a powerful one-two punch in the future, but in 2022, the two are just the right thing at the wrong time.

When Tesla first started making moves toward entering the Indian automotive market, there was a lot of excitement. The unbelievable potential of a partnership between the world’s leading electric car company and a government that primarily focuses on domestic manufacturing efforts, mainly due to the Make in India initiative, had people buzzing. However, there were still hoops to jump through. Any person with any sort of knowledge about India and cars knows that it is an expensive place to own one, especially if it was not built there. Getting cars from outside of India into the country doubles the cost of the vehicle on most occasions due to import duties. This is when Tesla started to realize how difficult this whole process might be.

Tesla places its India entry on hold after failing to secure lower import taxes: report

In routine negotiations, even with companies and governments, there is always a brief standoff period to see who will budge first. The hypothetical game of chicken can be magnified when dealing with two large entities, but eventually, something happens where someone makes a move, and things start to come together. I thought a great, recent, and relevant example of this would be the Elon Musk-Twitter buyout, where, as the board of the platform mozied over the Tesla CEO’s offer, new developments were few and far between, as expected. Nothing was going to move forward until someone budged.

The issue is that sometimes people choose not to budge because their needs in a particular deal are non-negotiable. When the needs of both sides are non-negotiable, it complicates the entire ordeal, and this is what made the Tesla-India deal stagnate: Two large entities that had specific requirements to make something happen. Neither was asking for a small thing, so it is not necessarily unreasonable that Tesla put its plans for India on hold.

Tesla needed to test demand for its cars. It would only be able to do this by building them in Fremont, California, Austin, Texas, Brandenburg, Germany, or Shanghai, China, and then shipping them to India. The problem with this system was it would not be an accurate representation of what Tesla might be able to sell in the market, as the vehicles would still be subjected to massive import duties that would double the cost of the car in some cases. Only a small percentage of the population would be able to afford that, and with very little EV infrastructure in India, it made the company’s products even less attractive. Tesla was effectively stuck between a rock and a hard place because it had an interest in building and selling cars in India, it just needed to confirm that the people of India wanted to buy the cars. Indian government officials rarely offered commentary that was indicative of a willingness to budge.

India wanted Tesla to commit to building a new Gigafactory in their country, which would align with the government’s focus on domestic manufacturing efforts and would likely give officials enough to pull back import duties for Tesla. However, Tesla could not commit to this: there was no indication that demand would be high enough to justify an entire factory, and Tesla was not sure it would be able to export vehicles from the Indian factory to other countries. Given the economic situations across the world during the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, neither entity would be able to budge from their needs.

India and Tesla were the right thing, just at the wrong time. Given the extreme demands that both Tesla and Indian officials needed, it was best to not beat a dead horse any longer and move on from the potential partnership, at least temporarily. Tesla does have a lot of potential in India, but it cannot justify purchasing massive land plots for a new facility, it cannot justify spending millions more on showrooms and service centers, and it can not adequately test the want for its vehicles with massive import taxes trailing behind every car sent to the market.

Try again in a few years, hopefully.

I’d love to hear from you! If you have any comments, concerns, or questions, please email me at joey@teslarati.com. You can also reach me on Twitter @KlenderJoey, or if you have news tips, you can email us at tips@teslarati.com.

Opinion: Tesla and India is the right thing at the wrong time
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