Tesla CEO Elon Musk with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Tesla, India talks stagnate as neither party is willing to budge on terms

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the Tesla Fremont Factory in 2015.

Tesla and Indian government officials have essentially reached a standstill as neither party is willing to budge from terms they feel are necessary to bring the electric automaker’s vehicles to the South Asian country.

Tesla has said for years that it would enter India as a market for its electric vehicles. Progress started to be made in 2021 when Tesla acquired several business licenses in India, but things have hit a roadblock in recent months, especially as Tesla is unwilling to commit to a Gigafactory facility unless it can test demand first. Indian officials are reluctant to roll back duties on imported vehicles so Tesla can determine whether the market would be an ideal place to build a factory that could potentially cost $1 billion or more.

Tesla cannot effectively test demand because the import duties would increase the cost of cars $40,000 and under by 40%. Anything over $40,000 is subject to a 100% tax, putting the cars out of the price range for many people.

However, Indian officials told Reuters that “they have been unconvinced by Tesla’s lobbying as the company has not yet shared any firm plan to invest in the country.” Tesla has not yet committed to any solidified investment, likely because the current government administration, run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is unwilling to lower import taxes that would allow a foreign company to test demand. The focus is only on domestic manufacturing, as a part of Modi’s “Make In India” plan from 2015 that aimed to boost local manufacturing.

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Tesla’s unwillingness to commit because of no real demand data, along with India’s requests for a formal commitment, has resulted in “a weird stalemate situation,” one insider also said in the report. “Things are not moving ahead (for Tesla),” they said.

Another source has stated that Tesla is open to sourcing its automotive components from local manufacturers and would eventually move toward manufacturing them internally. This would provide domestic companies supplier deals initially, and then contribute to workforce and labor growth as Tesla transitioned to a vertically integrated system in India after a few years of operation. One example of workforce growth that Tesla has contributed to is China, as Gigafactory Shanghai is expanding its Model Y line to 9,000 workers from 6,000. When the expansion is completed, 18,000 people will be employed at the Shanghai facility.

Even though Tesla is willing to utilize local suppliers early on, government officials are looking for a firm commitment. “If they do not want to invest anything here, how is that model going to work,” the source said. Additionally, this source stated that import duties being rolled back soon was “highly unlikely.”

Rumors of a potential meeting between Modi and CEO Elon Musk, who stated last week that Tesla was still working through “challenges” with India’s government, have circulated. A source did state that Tesla officials have met with India’s Tax and Customs department and Modi’s office in the past. Tesla officials have pushed for a meeting between Musk and Modi directly.

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Tesla, India talks stagnate as neither party is willing to budge on terms
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