Tesla on track to begin sales in May, says gov’t

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Tesla on track to begin sales in May, says gov’t

Tesla completed the manufacturer registration process to sell cars in Korea on Wednesday, putting it on track to begin operations here within the first half of this year.

“Tesla plans to bring its test product into the country by this month and begin sales in May,” said an official from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which is in charge of the registration process.

The only step left for the automaker is to report basic specs of the model it plans to sell at least 10 days before sales begin, a relatively simple step compared to previous hurdles.

To earn certification from the Transport Ministry as a registered manufacturer in the country, automakers have to be verified in three categories: the manufacturing facility, testing facility and after-sales service plan. Tesla’s documents had been turned back a couple of times after its initial submission in December because of an insufficient after-sales service plan.

The company decided to partially build up its repair facility in the country to offer maintenance service on core functions of its cars, including car charging and autonomous driving. For relatively light repairs like external fixing, Tesla will use a subcontractor.

When sales begin in Korea, Tesla plans to inform customers that they cannot be wholly dependent on the car’s autonomous driving function, for which the company is well known. The ministry has required the carmaker issue the notice after an accident in Florida last June occurred while a car was driving in autonomous mode. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed it was not due to any defects on the car.

There is one factor that could affect Tesla’s sales in Korea. Under current law, the central government provides about 14 million won ($12,000) to buyers of electric cars as part of its efforts to boost the burgeoning market. But the subsidy is provided only to vehicles that can charge fully in less than 10 hours. Tesla’s S 90D model takes 14 hours to fully charge.

Considering Tesla’s popularity, the Korean government may raise the cap for the subsidy. On its part, Tesla has not yet applied for the testing process required of automakers seeking to qualify for a subsidy.

Meanwhile, Chinese electric car maker BYD also recently applied for manufacturer registration in Korea. BYD was the world’s top plug-in electric car manufacturer with over 100,000 units sold in 2016, followed by Tesla.

“At the earliest, the process could be completed by next week,” a Trade Ministry official said.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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