Elon Musk, for the most part, is a darling of the world’s engineers, techies and nerds, but he seems to have antagonized some of his Indian fanbase.
Members of India’s tech community have slammed Elon Musk for appearing to claim that Tesla isn’t allowed to sell cars in India. “Is Tesla manufacturing a plant in India in future,” a Twitter user had asked Elon Musk. “Tesla will not put a manufacturing plant in any location where we are not allowed first to sell & service cars,” Musk replied.
Musk’s statement isn’t entirely accurate — Tesla, like other foreign manufacturers, is completely free to sell cars in India, but has chosen to not do so thus far citing the country’s import duties. India — which has a population of 1.4 billion — levies import taxes on foreign cars to encourage domestic car manufacturing. Tesla, though, wants to sell its China-made cars in India, and hasn’t yet opened up car sales in the country.
And Musk’s claims about Tesla not being allowed to sell cars in India didn’t sit well with many prominent names in India’s tech community. Former Paytm VP and Indiagold founder Deepak Abbot said that Musk was twisting the truth. “Elon musk misuses his fan following by twisting the truth. Tesla can import, pay the required duties and sell as many cars they want in India,” he tweeted.
Angel investor Rajesh Sawhney said that while he was a Tesla fan, he supported the Indian government’s move to levy import duties on foreign cars. “I am a fan of Tesla, would buy one if available in India. But I don’t want to buy a China made Tesla. I am sure most Indians would support Indian Govt’s embargo on Chinese Teslas,” he wrote. “We will wait,” he added.
Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal, which has set up the world’s largest two-wheeler EV factory in India, was even more blunt. Thanks, but no thanks!” he tweeted, and added an Indian flag for good measure.
Some users went on to allege that Musk — who’s in the process of buying Twitter — was himself spreading misinformation on Twitter.
Scaler founder Abhimanyu Saxena said that he would no longer be buying a Tesla. “While I had been deferring my car purchase for Tesla, but not anymore. You’re not above law of the land and I’m sure indigenous EVs will be as good if not locally better than Tesla soon! Big L for Elon and Tesla!!” he tweeted. “Also my dear Elon, it’s a lie that you’re not allowed to sale in India. Pay due taxes, and sale just like every other car maker, and figure out whether it’s a market interesting enough for you or not. Stop behaving with holier than thou attitude, you too are but just a tech bro!” he added.
Tech reviewer Amit Bhawani openly called Musk’s statement a lie. “I like Elon’s work & Tesla, but this is a LIE. The Indian Govt. has not stopped them from selling their cars & Global auto makers import their cars, paying duties & Indian’s happily buying those Indian Govt. isn’t ready to give special subsidies Tesla wanted. Simple as that!” he tweeted.
Things got so bad that Musk was even bashed by India’s Tesla Club, which represents some of Tesla’s biggest Indian fans. “You are allowed to sell and service cars just not without paying import duties for importing fully built cars from China. Common Elon, Kia and BMW are able to get their CBU $60,000 Evs and sell them here. No one is stopping Tesla from doing the same,” the account said.
Tesla’s India entry has now been a year-long saga that seems to have no end in sight. All the way back in 2016, the Indian government had offered land to Tesla to set up factories in India, and Tesla had even opened bookings for the cars from Indian customers. Several prominent members of the tech community, including Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma, had coughed up $1000 to book their Tesla cars. But several years passed, and the cars never arrived. In 2021, it appeared that Tesla was finally coming to India — the company had set up an office in Bangalore, and had even begun hiring for its India office.
But it seems that negotiations have once again fallen through — the Indian government appears unwilling to exempt Tesla from the import duties it levies on all foreign cars, and Tesla seems unwilling to manufacture cars in India until it can get a significant exemption on duties. It remains to be seen how Tesla’s tussle with India will play out, but Musk’s strategy of — somewhat misleadingly — claiming that Tesla isn’t allowed to sell cars in India is clearly winning him no fans within the country.