What’s the bigger challenge for Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk: Helping thaw frosty relations between the U.S. and China, or getting the company’s planned $5 billion plant outside Shanghai up and running by the end of the year?
Two days after Musk appeared at a muddy groundbreaking ceremony for his newest gigafactory, China’s Premier Li Keqiang met with the billionaire-entrepreneur in Beijing and said he hopes Tesla’s CEO can do both. Musk’s target is for Tesla to build the factory and start assembling Model 3 sedans by the end of this year, with volume production getting under way in 2020.
“We hope you can get a firm foothold and expand the market,” Li told Musk Wednesday. “We hope your company can become an in-depth participant of China’s opening and a promoter of the stability of China-U.S. relations.”
Li congratulated Musk on kicking off construction of the factory and said the world’s second-biggest economy will continue to be a hot spot for foreign investors and welcome all companies. Musk lauded China’s efficiency and speed of development, adding it was hard to imagine Tesla could complete all procedures for the factory in such a short period of time.
The handshake ceremony with Li coincided with the China Passenger Car Association reporting the first annual slump in auto sales in more than two decades. China and the U.S. also just wrapped up three days of talks to resolve trade disputes, and officials from both nations have expressed optimism that progress has been made. Beijing said Thursday the negotiations were “extensive, in-depth and detailed,” and laid the foundation for the resolution of issues of mutual concern.