Elon Musk May Have a Chinese Surprise

China is the world’s largest automotive market and a key market for Tesla in its ambition to dominate the global car industry.

Dominate headlines globally.

Be at the center of conversations in business and geopolitical circles around the world.

Drive discussions in the intersection between the world of business and that of politics and geopolitics.

This is the strategy deployed by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla  (TSLA) – Get Free Report, who has been a global boss for several months now.

This strategy could once again be at play in the coming days. According to Reuters, the tech mogul is planning a visit to China and is looking to meet Premier Li Qiang during this trip.

After Apple’s Tim Cook

The visit could take place as early as this April, reported Reuters, citing anonymous sources close to the matter. The boss of the Austin, Texas-based electric vehicle maker is reportedly awaiting a response from Li’s staff on his availability, to confirm the dates of his visit. Basically, Musk’s next visit to China is a done deal but the date must be determined according to whether he will be received by Li.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A probable trip by Musk to China would come amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, which have evolved into a kind of technological war. Beijing is also trying to attract foreign investors and businesses, as the Chinese economy tries to revive after years of COVID-19, marred by the lockdown which saw the country shut off from the world.

In recent days, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple  (AAPL) – Get Free Report, has been visiting China where he was welcomed by Li, who became Premier last month. Li is leading the country’s efforts to convince international companies to continue investing in China. 

China is a key market for the iPhone maker, but since the disruptions to supply chains caused by the pandemic, Apple has been trying to diversify its suppliers and is thinking in particular of other Asian countries such as India.

As with Apple, China is also an important market for Tesla. It is its second largest market in terms of sales. The company owns a factory in Shanghai which is of high importance to the EV maker’s global ambitions.

This plant, which produces its two most popular models — Model 3 and Model Y — serves the Asian and European markets. Giga Shanghai has a production capacity of more than 750,000 vehicles per year, according to the company.

The success of Shanghai has also encouraged Musk to include the former head of China operations on the short list of his potential successors. Tom Zhu is now the company’s manufacturing leader.

Musk’s Last Visit Remains Memorable

Musk has not visited China for three years. His last visit dates back to the beginning of 2020. At the time, images of him dancing on a podium at the Shanghai factory had travelled around the world and had won him a lot of popularity.

Since then, Musk has seen his influence grow. For a period of time, he became the richest man in the world. He is currently the world’s second richest man, behind French businessman Bernard Arnault, with a net wealth valued at $187 billion as of Apr. 1, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The serial entrepreneur has also become an important voice on the global geopolitical scene, a status he earned by providing Starlink to Ukraine at war with Russia. Starlink is a secure satellite internet access service, developed by SpaceX, another of the billionaire’s companies.

Furthermore, last October, he acquired Twitter, the social network considered the platform where trendsetters and opinion makers meet around the world, for $44 billion. The social media puts Musk, who describes himself as a “free speech absolutist,”  in a delicate position, particularly with regard to censorship in China. How would he respond to requests from Beijing to remove content or block certain voices opposed to the regime, is one of the questions that many experts ask.

While it is unclear what Musk wants to discuss with Li, it is worth noting that Tesla is still awaiting for the green light from Chinese authorities for FSD, or Full Self Driving, its advanced driver assistance system.

The automaker is also experiencing delays in its plans to double its production capacity in Shanghai.

What is certain is that, a visit by Musk to China will be followed closely by the political and business worlds.

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