Tesla’s plans for China are ambitious, even by the company’s standards. By the end of summer, Tesla expects the initial construction of Gigafactory 3 to be complete, and by year’s end, the company plans to start Model 3 production in the facility. As the dust settles after the groundbreaking ceremony for Gigafactory 3, though, a notable opportunity for Tesla has also presented itself.
China represents the world’s largest auto market, and its EV industry is growing fast. Amidst this growth, the country has also seen the rise of car-sharing services, which provide commuters a way to get from Point A to Point B without the hassles of public transportation or the responsibilities of owning a car. An analysis from the Nikkei Asian Review last year estimated that car-sharing services in China could hire out as many as 2 million vehicles in 2020 — a notable increase from the 100,000 cars used in 2017.
Since CC Clubs, China’s first modern car-sharing company, was launched in 2010, the industry has seen a notable rise. Amidst the government’s initiatives that make car ownership trickier, the presence of car-sharing services was widely appreciated by the commuting public. Over the years, car-sharing services in the country have steadily transitioned to electric vehicles as well, augmented in part by the government’s subsidies in production and sales of EVs, as well as restrictions placed on ICE vehicles in a number of Chinese cities.
In response to this trend, Bloomberg noted that legacy automakers are launching initiatives to catch China’s car-sharing trend. Last April alone, Didi Chuxing, one of China’s most prominent ride-hailing firms, formed an alliance with auto companies such as Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp. to develop vehicles explicitly designed for car-sharing. Volvo Cars and Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. have also launched a car-sharing feature for its new models through its joint venture, Lynk & Co.
It is this particular market that Tesla can breach with the vehicles that will be produced in Gigafactory 3. Tesla has established itself as a maker of premium, desirable electric cars in China, but its vehicles have always been weighed down by import tariffs, which hike up the cars’ prices. With Gigafactory 3 in the picture, though, Tesla would be able to produce and sell its vehicles on the same playing field as local automakers. This presents a valuable advantage to Tesla, which intends to exclusively produce affordable versions of the Model 3 and Model Y in Gigafactory 3.
Ridesharing actually forms a large part of Elon Musk’s vision for the future. In his Master Plan, Part Deux, Musk described his plan of launching a ridesharing service comprised of fully autonomous vehicles. During the third-quarter earnings call, Musk elaborated on his idea, stating that Tesla would be open to the idea of deploying its own fleet of vehicles in areas where there are few electric cars.
“Tesla will for sure operate its own ride-hailing service. There will be a company-owned fleet where there aren’t enough customer cars to be rented out. So if we find in a particular metro (where) there aren’t enough customers who are willing to add their car to the shared fleet, that’s where we’d supplant with the company-owned fleet. So that’s why it’s sort of a combination of the Uber-Lyft thing and Airbnb. We would charge something comparable to how you’d say the App Store works, or I don’t know, we’d charge 30% or something in order for somebody to add the car to the fleet. I think that’s a pretty sensible way to go.”
While Elon Musk’s Tesla Network would not be launched in China in the near future (Full Self-Driving is still under development and regulations for autonomous vehicles are yet to be decided), rolling out a simpler, more basic form of the service in the country would most likely bode well for the company. By deploying fleets of affordable, locally produced Model 3 in key cities for car-sharing, Tesla would likely be able to establish itself as a key player in China’s car-sharing market.
For now, Tesla’s entry into China’s car-sharing industry would likely depend on the progress of Gigafactory 3’s construction. With government support, there is little doubt that the facility would be completed within its target timeframe. If Tesla can keep up and establish a Model 3 assembly line on time, it might not be long before China’s car-sharing market welcomes another large, potentially dominant player.