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Beijing — Elon Musk pushed for China’s approval for Tesla to roll out advanced driver-assistance systems in a whirlwind trip to Beijing that ended on Monday, a step that could boost revenues at a time when Tesla is under pressure from Chinese rivals.

The Tesla CEO arrived in the Chinese capital on Sunday where he was expected to discuss the rollout of Full Self-Driving (FSD) software and permission to transfer driving data overseas, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

His meetings included one with Premier Li Qiang, who praised Tesla’s development in China as a successful example of US-China economic and trade co-operation though state media did not say if the two had discussed FSD.

Still, the US automaker won a key endorsement that coincided with his trip — from a top Chinese auto association which said Tesla’s Model 3 and Y cars were among models found to be compliant with China’s data security requirements.

Two separate sources said Tesla had reached an agreement with Baidu to use the Chinese tech giant’s mapping licence for data collection on China’s public roads, which they described as a key step for FSD to be introduced in the country.

Tesla shares were last up 7% in premarket trade.

Data security and compliance have been among the reasons why the US electric vehicle maker, which rolled out the most autonomous version of its Autopilot software four years ago, has yet to make FSD fully available in China, its second-largest market globally, despite customer demand.

Chinese regulators had since 2021 required Tesla to store all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai, leaving the company unable to transfer any back to the US.

Musk is looking to obtain approval to transfer data collected in the country abroad to train algorithms for its autonomous driving technologies, the person said.

Musk’s visit to China was not flagged publicly and the person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak with the media.

It remains unclear as to what, if any, other regulatory approvals Tesla will need to obtain or what conditions the company may have before it makes FSD fully available in China.

Equity analysts at Wedbush called the surprise visit “a major moment for Tesla”.

Rival Chinese automakers and suppliers such as XPeng and Huawei Technologies have been seeking to gain an advantage over Tesla by rolling out similar software.

Hu Xijin, a former editor of state-backed tabloid Global Times who regularly posts in support of China’s official position, said on his Weibo account that Tesla was the only foreign-funded automaker to meet China’s data compliance requirements and said that this would pave the way for Tesla cars to enter premises owned by government agencies and state-owned firms across China.

“This is not only a breakthrough in China, but also a significant demonstration for the entire world in solving data security issues,” he said.

Musk’s visit came just over a week after he scrapped a planned trip to India to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, citing “very heavy Tesla obligations”.

Musk had been set on his cancelled India trip to announce $2bn to $3bn in new investments, including in a car plant, after India offered lower import taxes on EVs in return under a new policy.

China data

Tesla cars have for years been banned from entering Chinese military complexes over security concerns relating to cameras installed on its vehicles. Its cars have also been turned away from sites holding important political events, such as an annual summer leadership conclave the governing Communist Party held in 2022.

He Xiaopeng, the CEO of XPeng whose XNGP Advanced Driver Assistance System is similar to FSD, said on his Weibo account he welcomed the entry of the Tesla technology into China.

“Only when we have better products and technologies entering, can we provide a better experience to the market and customers and let the market develop in a healthy manner and at a faster pace,” he said.

“Let a hundred flowers bloom,” he said, echoing a famous line from chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China.

The improved prospect of FSD entering China comes as Tesla shares have lost almost a third of their value since the start of the year, as concerns have grown about the EV maker’s growth trajectory. Last week, Tesla reported its first decline in quarterly revenue since 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic slowed production and deliveries.

Musk said last week that Tesla would introduce new cheaper models using its current EV platforms and production lines and would offer a new “robotaxi” with self-driving technology. He said on X this month that he would unveil the robotaxi on Aug. 8.

China’s complicated traffic conditions with more pedestrians and cyclists than in many other markets provide more scenarios that are key for training autonomous driving algorithms at a faster pace, according to industry experts.

“If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be a ‘game changer’ around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a note.

Musk said earlier this month that Tesla may make FSD available to customers in China “very soon”, in response to a query on X.

Besides meeting Li on the short trip to Beijing, Musk met the organiser of the ongoing Beijing auto show. The chair of Chinese battery giant CATL Robin Zeng, a key Tesla battery supplier, also visited Musk’s hotel on Monday, according to a Reuters witness.

Reuters could not immediately confirm with CATL if Zeng met with Musk.


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