Tesla CEO Elon Musk in China for talks

Tesla CEO Elon Musk in China for talks

The mercurial magnate is a controversial figure in the West, but in China Tesla's electric vehicles have become a staple of middle-class urban life
The mercurial magnate is a controversial figure in the West, but in China Tesla's electric vehicles have become a staple of middle-class urban life. Photo: ETIENNE LAURENT / AFP/File
Source: AFP

Tech billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk was in China for talks on Sunday, making his second trip in less than a year to the world's biggest market for electric vehicles.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said Musk -- one of the world's richest people -- held a meeting with a top trade official, publishing a photograph of the X owner at Beijing's grand Diaoyutai state guesthouse.

Musk has extensive business interests in China and his most recent visit was in June last year.

Tesla did not respond to AFP's requests for confirmation of Musk's visit, or share his itinerary for the trip.

"At the invitation of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, Tesla (US) CEO Elon Musk arrived in Beijing this afternoon," CCTV said.

State media said Musk met with Ren Hongbin, the head of the trade council, "to discuss next steps in cooperation and other topics".

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The mercurial magnate is a controversial figure in the West, but in China, Tesla's electric vehicles have become a staple of middle-class urban life.

Having once derided Chinese EVs, Musk described them this year as being "the most competitive car companies in the world".

"It's good to see electric vehicles making progress in China," he was quoted as saying by a state-backed media outlet on Sunday.

"All cars will be electric in the future."

However, Musk's own company has run into trouble in the world's second-largest economy: in January, Tesla recalled more than 1.6 million electric vehicles in China to fix their steering software.

His arrival in China coincides with a cut-throat price war between firms desperate to get ahead in the fiercely competitive EV market.

China's local car giant BYD -- "Build Your Dreams" -- beat out Tesla in last year's fourth quarter to become the world's top seller of EVs.

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Tesla reclaimed that title in the first quarter of this year, but BYD remains firmly on top in its home market.

His visit also comes as Beijing hosts a massive auto show, which held press events from Thursday and opened to the public over the weekend.

'Tesla's last hope'

Comments under posts about Musk's arrival on the social media site Weibo were full of speculation that the celebrity tycoon would attend Auto China while in Beijing.

One user suggested Musk's visit was motivated by a desire to test drive an SU7, the first car model released earlier this year by Chinese consumer tech giant Xiaomi.

Xiaomi's entrance into the competitive EV sector appears to be off to a positive start, with CEO Lei Jun saying this month that pre-orders had outpaced expectations by three to five times.

Other commenters responded to reports that Musk's trip was intended to give him an opportunity to talk with Chinese officials about the possibility of bringing Tesla's Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology to the local market.

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"FSD is Tesla's last hope for saving its domestic sales," one Weibo user said.

Musk's interests in China have long raised eyebrows in Washington, with President Joe Biden saying in November 2022 that his links to foreign countries were "worthy" of scrutiny.

The tycoon has also caused controversy by suggesting the self-ruled island of Taiwan should become part of China -- a stance that was welcomed by Chinese officials but deeply angered Taipei.

Source: AFP

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