Tesla China sales falter as more vehicles shipped to Europe

Tesla Inc. sales in China dropped last month amid stepped up criticism of the U.S. automaker. But exports of its China-made electric cars were robust, a sign of increasing demand in Europe.

Tesla sold 25,845 locally made vehicles in April, down from 35,478 units in March, data from China’s Passenger Car Association released Tuesday show.

Some 14,174 EVs were exported from the company’s Shanghai gigafactory, due in part to demand from the European market, PCA said. The car body didn’t release Tesla China export data for March or February, and the company only started shipping abroad late last year.

Tesla has faced a rocky few months in China, starting in March when its EVs were banned from some Chinese military complexes and housing compounds because of concerns about sensitive data being collected by cameras and sensors built into the vehicles.

Shortly after the military ban became public, Tesla CEO Elon Musk used a virtual appearance at a Chinese conference to stress that the automaker would never use a vehicle’s technology for spying, and would be closed down if it did.

China is now considering new regulations that would require data collected by intelligent cars to be stored in the country, a move triggered by the Tesla camera concerns.

In April, there was another upset after a highly public protest at the Shanghai Auto Show went viral. A customer who claimed the brakes failed in her Tesla, almost killing her father who was driving at the time, jumped on top of a display car, prompting a deeper investigation by a local market regulator and heated criticism of Tesla’s customer service.

PCA Secretary-General Cui Dongshu on Tuesday said Tesla was an “excellent company” with a globally standardized product.

“If there is problem, it would be universal instead of just being in one country,” he said. “So far, problems with Tesla cars can still be seen as an incident instead of any serious defect with its products.”

Retail sales of passenger cars more generally in China rose 12.4 percent year-on-year in April to 1.64 million units. However sales were down 8.6 percent versus March. New-energy vehicle sales growth was much stronger, jumping 913 percent year-on-year to 163,000 units.

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