By Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Tesla has started delivering Model 3 electric cars built at its Shanghai factory in just under a year since it began work on the $2 billion plant, a record for global automakers in China, and said it would ramp up deliveries from next month.
The U.S. electric vehicle maker marked the start with an event on Monday where 15 Tesla employees received cars they had purchased, one of whom took the opportunity to propose marriage to his girlfriend after getting his new set of wheels.
The China-made Model 3 sedans are priced at 355,800 yuan ($50,000) before subsidies. Imported Model 3 vehicles start at 439,000 yuan for the longer-range version, while the standard range plus model costs under $40,000 in the United States.
The Shanghai plant, up and running in just 357 days, is part of Tesla’s plans to bolster its presence in the world’s biggest car market and minimize the impact of the U.S.-China trade war.
The automaker, which previously imported all the cars it sold in China, had said it wanted to start deliveries from the Shanghai plant before the Lunar New Year beginning on Jan. 25.
“From now onwards China-made Model 3 vehicles will start running on China’s large streets and small lanes,” Tesla Vice President Tao Lin said at the delivery ceremony which was attended by employees and Shanghai government officials.
China General Manager for the Silicon Valley carmaker Wang Hao said Tesla plans to ramp up Model 3 deliveries in January.
The Chinese government has been supportive of the factory, the first wholly foreign-owned car plant and a reflection of Beijing’s broader shift to open up its auto market.
Tesla has taken a different approach to the Chinese market, the world’s biggest for electric vehicles with 1.3 million new-energy vehicles sold last year, as is evident from its marketing blitz in the country that is quite unlike anywhere else.
The company and its flamboyant billionaire CEO Elon Musk openly disdain marketing, but in China Tesla has offered racing events and showroom parties.
It is also building service centers and charging stations across China to assure customers of standardized after-sales service, Tesla’s senior executives said, confirming a Reuters report on the plans published last month.
The car maker will double the number of service centers and fast charging stations in China next year, and plans to more than double its after-sales workforce to 1,500 from about 600 currently, the executives added.
Wang also told reporters the plant had achieved a production target of 1,000 units a week, or around 280 cars a day, and that sales for the China-made sedan had so far been “very good”.
(Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Himani Sarkar)