Tesla Launches Chinese Site As It Prepares To Sell Its Electric Cars In China

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Tesla Motors has launched its Chinese site, Tousule.cn, as it prepares to sell its electric cars, the Model S and Model X, in China (h/t TechNode). The site is currently taking pre-orders with with a reservation fee of RMB 250,000, or about USD $41,000 USD. The company hopes to start delivering the Model S in the first quarter of 2014.

The site follows the opening of Tesla Motors’ showroom in Beijing last month. At that time, the China Daily reported that the Model S will cost between $146,000 and $200,000, due to the steep taxes that China levies on imports. In the U.S., each Model S is priced between $71,000 to $120,000 depending on its specs, while in Europe that range is $98,000 to $162,000.

Tesla Motors started taking pre-orders for the Model S in August at its showroom and it already had a Chinese Web presence in the form of its Tesla brand page on microblogging platform Sina Weibo. The personal Weibo account of Tesla China general manager Kingston Chang has also been a key information outlet. Chang worked at Bentley China before joining Tesla Motors in March.

The site’s domain name is based on the Chinese pronunciation of Tesla. The domain Tesla.cn was registered in 2006 by a company based in Guangzhou that claimed it was using the URL to support its own research, even though the site is currently blank.

Tousule.cn says the company will offer incentives to attract local buyers despite the steep premium they have to pay for Tesla cars. As in the U.S., Tesla will try to attract a niche segment of affluent, environmentally-conscious early adopters. Its Beijing showroom is located in Parkview Green, an upscale shopping center that was also the first mixed-use commercial building in China to be certified LEED platinum, making it a neat fit for Tesla’s marketing strategy.

In China, Tesla’s potential selling points include the safety record of its vehicles. Mainland China’s wealthiest cities–Shanghai and Beijing–also suffer from poor air quality, which will help make Tesla’s cars stand out from other high-end auto manufacturers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

But Tesla still faces several significant challenges. For one thing, it needs to build a charging infrastructure across China. It also competes with Chinese manufacturers, like BYD and Kandi, that have received support from the government to make electric vehicles.

CEO Elon Musk has said he is realistic about the challenges of entering China. In the company’s May 2013 earnings call, Musk described the country as the “wild card” of its international expansion strategy. One in four reservations for Tesla’s electric vehicles currently come from outside the U.S.

“I think we will see probably at least 10,000 units a year from demand in Europe and then at least 5,000 in Asia,” Musk said. “But I mean, that could be, obviously, a much bigger number and China is kind of a wild card here.”