Musk says China is leading EVs, but CEO of Chinese rival says not so fast

Simply a fact.
Simply a fact.
Image: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
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Elon Musk has been one of the best-liked western entrepreneurs in China, partly thanks to his support of the country’s many achievements. But the Tesla founder’s latest compliment is facing some challenge in China.

On Monday (May 30), Musk’s post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo praised the country for “leading the world” in renewable energy generation and electric vehicles. “Whatever you may think of China, this is simply a fact,” wrote Musk, who has nearly 2 million followers on the Chinese platform. Musk also tweeted the same content the same day, commenting under a post that lists China as the leader in installed wind power capacity globally.

Many Chinese media outlets quickly picked up this comment; on Weibo, the hashtag #MuskpraisedChinaagain received millions of views. But many Weibo users challenged Musk’s assertion. “Don’t take Musk’s words to heart, he is just a businessman, and one that is America-loving,” wrote a nationalistic cartoonist who has around 6.6 million followers on Weibo. Some say this is just a tactic for Musk’s business to get favorable treatment from the US government by highlighting the Chinese competition.

One challenge to Musks’ comment came from one of Tesla’s strongest Chinese rivals, EV maker XPeng Motors. He Xiaopeng, the CEO and co-founder of the Chinese company, responded online that he thinks China is only at the forefront globally in the field of EV—not leading it, though the distinction he was making isn’t exactly clear. To truly lead, “…apart from leading in technology and products, it’s more important to lead in global markets and achieve win-win situations in business, which would require 10 years of efforts,” wrote He on Weibo. He compared the situation to the mobile internet a decade ago, a field that people thought China was leading, “but once the real technological war starts, China’s leading fronts in this arena globally would not be enough.” His comment echoes a similar sentiment from Beijing, which has been focused on the country’s independence in key tech such as semiconductors, which the government worries China is overly reliant on the US amid the two countries’ ongoing tensions.

Founded in 2014, XPeng has grown from a startup to one of the major players in the EV industry in China, where Tesla competes with several of its rivals in the world’s largest EV market. In March, a model by low-budget Chinese EV brand Wuling Hongguang Mini was the most-registered plugin electric car in the country that month, followed by two models from Tesla, and then two from Chinese carmaker BYD. An Xpeng model ranks 13th on the list that month, according to EV data provider EV Volumes. In 2021, XPeng delivered 98,155 cars, a 263% increase from the year before but only around one third of Tesla’s sales in China last year.

Despite the fast-growing EV market in China, the country is not immune from the many challenges facing the industry players globally. He, for example, vented about the global chip shortage that has affected production of tech products including EVs, by sharing a video of a dancing duck toy who held a sign that reads “urgently seeking semiconductor chips” this month.

XPeng confirmed the Weibo was from He, while it didn’t make further comments about his remarks.