Tesla hikes car prices in China as trade war hits carmakers

Tesla signed an agreement Monday to open a plant in Shanghai that could produce up to 500,000 vehicles a year. It also hiked prices in China over the weekend.

Prices of Tesla's Model S and Model X were increased over the weekend by 150,000 yuan (S$30,765) to 250,000 yuan depending on the version.
Prices of Tesla's Model S and Model X were increased over the weekend by 150,000 yuan (S$30,765) to 250,000 yuan depending on the version.PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - US carmaker Tesla has hiked prices on its Model X and S cars by about 20 per cent in China, becoming the first carmaker to raise prices in the world’s largest automotive market in response to a US-China trade war.

The move is also the first indication of how much higher Chinese tariffs on certain US imports will flow through to showroom floors, with other carmakers likely to follow suit or shift a greater portion of production to China.

The tariffs will dent margins at Tesla and other automakers who make cars in the United States and ship to China, as they have been increasingly betting on the world’s largest car market to boost profits.

“Raising the prices is going to hurt sales, but money-losing Tesla has to raise prices because they can’t afford to fully absorb the higher costs of the tariffs,” CFRA research analyst Efraim Levy said.

“Considering they claim to be capacity-constrained, they should be able to shift sales elsewhere.”

For Tesla especially, rapidly burning cash and struggling to turn a profit, China is key. Sales in the country accounted for about 17 per cent of its revenue last year.

In May, it slashed up to US$14,000 (S$18,964)  off its Model X in China after Beijing announced major tariff cuts for imported automobiles, but the new tariffs have now erased that.

A basic Model S sedan now costs about 849,900 yuan (S$174,272) up from 710,579 yuan in May, while a Model X sport-utility vehicle costs about 927,200 yuan now, versus 775,579 yuan in May, according to its website.

China slapped retaliatory tariffs on US car imports in response to US President Donald Trump’s move to impose tariffs on US$34 billion worth of Chinese goods.

China’s tariffs are expected to hurt automakers as well as companies that make industrial components in the United States, and produce soybean, whisky and other agricultural produce.

Tesla’s price increases come as it plans to build a factory in Shanghai to serve the Chinese market. The company ships more than 15,000 cars a year to China.

Chief Executive Elon Musk is expected to visit Shanghai on Tuesday (July 10), Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the plans. Mr Musk will also visit Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday, Bloomberg said, quoting one of the sources.

A Tesla spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

German luxury automaker BMW, which also makes cars in the United States to sell in China, has also flagged that it will raise prices on vehicles it makes in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It said last Friday that it was unable to “completely absorb” the new tariffs.

Daimler, another German automaker which imports US-produced cars into China, said in a statement over the weekend that it “aims to maintain a competitive position” in China.

Ford Motor said last Thursday it would not hike prices on its imported cars for now, crimping its profit margins.