BANGKOK: Tesla entered its second country in Southeast Asia’s budding electric vehicle market on Wednesday with an official launch in Thailand, where competitors are rushing to take advantage of government incentives for local production.
Online bookings started on Wednesday for the Model 3 and Model Y, which Tesla aims to deliver in the first quarter of 2023. The Model 3 sedan will be priced from 1.76 million baht (US$50,000), while the Model Y midsize SUV will start at 1.96 million baht.
The US EV maker opened its first pop-up outlet in Thailand in Bangkok’s high-end Siam Paragon mall, with plans for at least 10 supercharging stations in the country by next year. The first Tesla showroom in Southeast Asia opened in Singapore last year.
The Elon Musk-led company enters Thailand as the high season for auto sales begins. Chinese competitors BYD and Great Wall Motor rode this tide last week at the country’s annual international motor expo, where the latter unveiled four new models for the Thai market.
Tesla has continued to lead BYD in global sales of battery-only EVs this year, but BYD surpassed Tesla in total vehicle sales including plug-in hybrid EVs since the second quarter.
Tesla will supply Thai customers with imported cars from its factory in Shanghai, which has run at full capacity after facing potential power cuts over the summer. The automaker began a local hiring spree in September amid reports that Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, was looking for a new production base in Southeast Asia.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo met with Musk in May to pitch his country’s extensive reserves of nickel, a key battery component.
But Thailand’s existing auto manufacturing infrastructure is attractive to Tesla’s competitors. Mercedes-Benz began producing its electric EQS in Thailand this year, while Great Wall Motor and BYD plan to make EVs locally within three years.
Tesla currently has no plans to produce in Thailand, a company representative told Nikkei Asia. The Thai government this year cut the import tax on electric vehicles from 8% to 2% for foreign makers who promise to begin local production within a certain time frame. But Tesla will benefit from a 0% import tax on EVs from China, as set in a bilateral agreement between Bangkok and Beijing.
“I want to also thank the Thai government for your strong leadership and contribution to the EV development in this country,” said Yvonne Chan, Tesla country director for Thailand. “Because we know without you believing in EV technology, Thailand wouldn’t be one of the leading EV adopters in Asia-Pacific.”
The starting price for the Model Y sits higher than competing midsize SUV models. BYD’s Atto 3 sells in Thailand at 1.4 million baht while Toyota’s bZ4X is priced at 1.8 million baht. BYD has promised to supply 5,000 cars by year-end under the lower tariff incentive for future production – a key selling point for Thai customers looking to escape high fuel prices.