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Why Tesla’s road in India may end before it even starts

Tesla Model 3 production line in Gigafactory 3, Shanghai, China. (Credit: Tesla)

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For years, Indian citizens have pleaded with Tesla CEO Elon Musk about the possibility of the electric automaker building and delivering cars in the country. India, a large landmass that 1.366 billion people call home, has less than 1% of its 30 million cars being of an electric nature, the most sustainable way to operate a vehicle. However, Tesla aims to change that with an imminent entrance into India’s market. The problem is, Tesla’s road in India may end before it even begins, which would be a massive blow to the company and its supporters in the country, as Tesla fans have waited several years for any indication that the car company would finally make an appearance in their section of the world. But, strict regulations and inside political interests are halting the possibility, and it has people wondering whether the world’s leading electric car company will ever make it to the Indian automotive market.

Many of you who read Teslarati on a daily basis know that we have been tracking the situation in India since the early days. In fact, one of my first articles of 2021, while I was recovering from COVID-19 in January, was about the potential that Tesla had in India’s markets. Additionally, it seemed that some potential customers would be ready to order their first all-electric cars from the Silicon Valley-based electric car company by the time Q2 rolled around. However, these pieces of outlook from Musk were not met because the Indian government has shut down any attempt Tesla has made toward getting their products in the country without the hefty import duties. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if they will be going away soon, either, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has heavily supported the idea of local manufacturing efforts, will not be forced to leave his post or enter another election until 2024.

While local manufacturing is something Americans take a lot of pride in, especially with cars, there are undoubtedly advantages to building things domestically. First, companies must hire workers in the country that the business is stationed in. Next, the increase of manufacturing jobs not only improves the American economy, but it also provides job security for the millions of employees that are on assembly lines 40 hours (or more) a week. There are a lot of strengths in manufacturing things locally, but there is also room for foreign entities to bring their products into a market, especially if they can benefit a foreign economy like it does a domestic one.

Musk with Modi in 2015

This is something Tesla argued in its proposal letter to the Indian government a few weeks ago when it requested a reduction in import duties. The increase in Tesla imports would actually assist the country in developing a charging infrastructure, which would supply jobs to the energy sector and provide cleaner transportation options in a country where the climate and environment struggle heavily with smog and emissions. Additionally, Tesla would need a dedicated Service Center in several locations as India is a large country. Not to mention, showrooms would also provide some employment opportunities.

Musk has said that Tesla will not bring a Gigafactory to India without some sort of data that would support healthy demand, something that is obviously needed to justify building a near-billion dollar production plant in India. Doing this through imports is a tremendous idea, but 60% import taxes on sub-$40k vehicles, and 100% duties on $40,000 and up vehicles just will not get this done. Plain and simple. There needs to be some movement on the Indian government’s end.

However, the Indian politicians fail to realize that the economic and environmental advantages to having EVs in the country will be a better move long term. Instead, they fail to budge or even consider reducing import duties of any kind, at least to this point, which appears to discourage Tesla’s requests to enter the market. It would be a shame if no solution can be reached after this problem because I believe that the environmental impacts alone will be something that not only the Indian people will enjoy, but the people of the world will begin to see eventually. As the air begins to clear and the smog disperses, there could be a relative ease on the strong relationship with gas and oil India has. Sustainable energy could make its way to India within the next few years, and Tesla could see the potential for its biggest Gigafactory yet in India.

Think about the economic benefits a large-scale production facility could provide. Not only would it produce well-paying jobs, but it would also create a lot of them.

There are so many benefits for both Tesla and India if a deal can be worked out. But can it? In my opinion, Tesla may be better off delaying the India operation for another few years, when a fresh administration and new ideas can be thrown around about Tesla entering the market. It seems, for now, there won’t be much of a possibility, and Tesla may be better off expanding its efforts in the UK or elsewhere.

With that being said, I would love to hear how you feel about this issue. Is Tesla wasting its time trying to get things going in India? Should it try again in a few years? Do you feel progress can be made? Why or why not? If not India, then where should Tesla consider a new Gigafactory?

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I use this newsletter to share my thoughts on what is going on in the Tesla world. If you want to talk to me directly, you can email me or reach me on Twitter. I don’t bite, be sure to reach out!

Why Tesla’s road in India may end before it even starts
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