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Elon Musk Visits Beijing Amid Tesla's China-Made Cars Passing Data Security Regulations

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Benjamin Hughes

June 25, 2024 - 05:30 am

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Removal of Restrictions on Tesla Cars in China

Local Chinese authorities have lifted restrictions on Tesla cars after the company's China-made vehicles successfully passed the country’s stringent data security requirements, the automaker announced on Sunday. This significant development coincided with Tesla CEO Elon Musk's unexpected arrival in Beijing for a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang. This visit occurred during the city's first major auto show in four years, signaling a potential warming of relations and regulatory cooperation between Tesla and Chinese authorities.

Tesla's Regulatory Breakthrough

Tesla's regulatory breakthrough is notable given the context of heightened scrutiny over data security. Although Tesla's electric cars are among the most popular in China, they have faced restrictions on some government-related properties due to concerns about data collection. The company’s ability to meet China’s data security standards represents a critical step in addressing these concerns. However, Tesla’s press release did not specify which local authorities had removed the restrictions, reflecting the complex regulatory landscape in China.

U.S. Concerns and Investigations

The situation is further complicated by international dynamics, as the Biden administration earlier this year announced a probe into whether imported cars from China pose national security risks due to their potential to collect data about the U.S. and send it back to China. This investigation highlights the broader geopolitical context in which Tesla operates, navigating between regulatory requirements in China and national security concerns in the U.S.

Compliance Achievements of Tesla and Other Automakers

Tesla's compliance with China’s data security requirements is not unique. In addition to Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y, several new energy vehicles from other manufacturers such as BYD, Lotus, Nezha, Li Auto, and Nio also passed China’s data security standards. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team/Coordination Center of China confirmed this on Sunday. These achievements indicate a broader industry trend towards enhanced data security practices.

New Data Security Requirements

The new data security requirements for “connected vehicles” were introduced in November and apply to cars released in 2022 and 2023, which automakers voluntarily submit for inspection. These rules are designed to ensure that cars anonymize facial recognition data outside the vehicle, default to not collecting cockpit data, process data inside the car, and prominently notify users of personal information processing. Tesla was among the first batch of automakers to meet these compliance requirements, reflecting its commitment to data security.

Tesla's Data Localization and Security Standards

Tesla highlighted in its press release that it localized data storage in 2021 at its Shanghai data center. This move was part of its broader strategy to meet local regulatory requirements and enhance data security. Tesla also passed the ISO 27001 international standard for information security after a review by third-party auditors, underscoring its adherence to global data security standards.

Elon Musk's Visit and FSD Software

Elon Musk's visit to China on Sunday also sparked speculation that Tesla’s driver-assist software, “Full Self Driving” (FSD), might soon be available in the country. However, industry experts remain skeptical about the immediate rollout of this technology. JL Warren Capital CEO and Head of Research Junheng Li expressed doubts on X (formerly Twitter), suggesting that the rollout of a “supervised” version of FSD in China is “extremely unlikely.” She cited challenges for Tesla in supporting local operations of the software as a foreign entity in China.

Local Competition and Strategic Considerations

Li also pointed out that there is “no strategic value” for Beijing to support the domestic rollout of FSD when there are many high-quality local alternatives, such as Xpeng's driver-assist software. This perspective reflects the competitive landscape in China’s automotive market, where local companies are rapidly advancing in autonomous driving technologies.

Premier Li's Visit to Xpeng and Innovation Drive

During his visit to the Beijing auto show, Premier Li Qiang visited Xpeng and other companies, emphasizing the importance of innovation and demand-driven production. According to state media, his remarks underscore the Chinese government’s focus on fostering technological advancements and supporting local manufacturers in the automotive sector.

Tesla's Absence at the Beijing Auto Show

Notably, Tesla is not exhibiting at this year’s auto show, continuing a trend since a protester stood on one of its cars during the auto show in Shanghai in 2021. The show alternates between Beijing and Shanghai annually and was not held in 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Tesla's absence from this year’s event might reflect a strategic decision to avoid potential controversies and focus on other marketing channels.

Conclusion: A Milestone for Tesla in China

In conclusion, the removal of restrictions on Tesla cars in China marks a significant milestone for the automaker. Successfully navigating China’s data security requirements not only allows Tesla to expand its market presence but also demonstrates its commitment to regulatory compliance. Elon Musk's visit to Beijing highlights the importance of the Chinese market for Tesla and raises the prospect of future technological collaborations. As Tesla and other automakers continue to meet stringent data security standards, the landscape of the automotive industry in China is poised for further transformation, driven by innovation and regulatory cooperation.