特斯拉有望在中国全资建厂,成业内第一家

编辑:给力英语新闻 更新:2017年10月24日 作者:纽约时报中文网(By KEITH BRADSHER and NATALIE KITROEFF)

北京,一辆特拉斯汽车在充电站。
北京,一辆特拉斯汽车在充电站。A Tesla car at a charging station in Beijing.

北京——特斯拉(Tesla)距离成为第一家在中国拥有全资生产工厂的外国汽车公司的目标越来越近,但这能到底能在多大程度上帮到该公司,还有待观察。

对特斯拉以及其他汽车生产商来说,它们在中国的很多选择都由该国政府引领。一个选择是开办合资企业,与中国合作伙伴分享自己的很多技术,还要奉上一半利润。另一个选择是在中国所谓的外贸区里从事生产,但其在中国销售的所有汽车都要缴纳高额进口关税。

汽车生产商最后通常会选择成立合资企业,并不得不分享自己的技术。而特斯拉正走上一条不同的道路,这反映出中国政府对电动汽车的重视。

两名了解谈判内情的人士称,特斯拉已与上海市政府初步达成协议,该公司将会开办全资工厂。

两人表示,该工厂将建在一个自贸区里。他们均要求匿名,因为未被授权谈论相关问题。工厂位于外贸区内意味着,除非特斯拉可以通过谈判获得特殊减免,否则这些汽车可能继续面临中国的高额关税——仍被视同从国外运进来的汽车,尽管它们是在中国国内生产的。

不过,这项初步协议让特斯拉有了对自身商业秘密的掌控权,或许也给了该公司在未来向中国政府争取更优惠条件的筹码。

两人称,特斯拉希望在年底前达成协议。

特斯拉和上海市政府达成任何全面协议以后,仍需得到中央政府的批准。北京当局有时会利用手中的权力推迟交易,或要求外国投资者做出更多让步。

中国政府一直试图把该国变成在世界上占主导地位的电动汽车生产国,对其而言,说服特斯拉在上海生产汽车并为这些汽车支付关税,将是一个巨大的成功。如果特斯拉在上海地区设厂,它会有足够的动力在中国采购大量零部件——即便不是大部分——从而巩固中国用以支撑快速增长的电动车行业的供应商基础

中国拥有世界上最大的电动汽车市场,主要是因为中国政府制定了一个旨在淘汰汽油动力汽车的计划,并为此提供大量的补贴。此举不仅会遏制污染,还会降低中国对进口石油的依赖。据全球性咨询公司LMC Automotive估计,今年,中国的电动汽车销量有望达到29.5万辆,而世界其他地方的销量加到一起也只有28.7万量。

差距或许还会扩大。LMC预计,未来两年内,中国的电动汽车销量会增加近两倍,而世界其他地方加在一起的总数只会增加一倍。这在某种程度上是因为,中国的官方监管机构将要求汽车生产商从2019年开始销售更多的电动汽车和充电式混合动力车——只有这样它们才能继续销售汽油动力汽车。此外,中国已着手研究出台一项法规,要在未来的某一天禁止销售内燃机汽车。

上海咨询公司Automcobility的创始人兼首席执行官比尔·鲁索(Bill Russo)说,除了开始在中国生产汽车,特斯拉没有别的商业选择。

“中国目前是世界上最大的电动汽车消费国和生产国,未来将依然如此,”他说。“如果特斯拉希望以一家全球性电动汽车生产商的身份参与角逐,它必须利用中国的生产和供应链条,以便在全球范围内与对手竞争。”

全世界所有的大市场当中,中国针对汽车贸易设置的壁垒是最高的,这让那些没把生产环节放到中国的汽车企业极为难以在这里开展竞争。中国得以保有针对进口商品的高关税和其他壁垒,是因为它在2001年加入世贸组织(简称WTO)时坚称自己是发展中国家。

WTO一直允许发展中国家保留远远高于工业化国家的贸易壁垒,理由是它们的“稚嫩产业”尚未发展壮大,恐怕难以经受住国际竞争的冲击。不过,中国的异常之处在于,它目前拥有全世界规模最大的汽车产业,却仍在对该产业进行高度保护,使其不受国际竞争的威胁。

中国对进口汽车征收25%的关税,相比之下美国的税率是2.5%,欧盟的是9.8%。中国还征收17%的增值税——一种销售税——这一税率不仅作用于汽车价格,还适用于关税,因此这些税实际上存在加成。

不同于这些税率,把汽车从太平洋对面运过来的费用微不足道。就特斯拉旗下产品这样的高价车而言,运费可能只占成本的1%。“运输成本通常无关紧要——25%的关税”才是妨碍进口的问题所在,上海咨询公司汽车前瞻(Automotive Foresight)的董事总经理张豫说。

美国贸易代表罗伯特·莱特希泽(Robert Lighthizer)对中国的贸易做法表示忧虑,并担心中国施加相当程度的压力,令全球制造商将其生产转移到该国。特朗普总统将于11月8日至10日访问北京,但中国似乎无意在电动汽车等被其视为战略重点的领域内展开谈判。

世界贸易组织通常规定,禁止国家强令外国汽车制造商与本国伙伴合作,建立合资企业,但在2001年,中国获得豁免权,可以不必遵守这一规则。因此北京要求,以中国国内市场为目标的外国汽车公司在外贸区之外,只能与当地制造商建立50-50的合资企业,以进行生产。这一要求迫使跨国公司向中国合资伙伴及其供应商转让大量技术和专业知识。

如果此协议确实得到实施,特斯拉将获得初步允许,可在外贸区内拥有独资企业,这在某种程度上是一个突破。十几年前,本田也曾获准在外贸区内建立企业,但与特斯拉不同,该厂被迫将其产品出口,主要销往欧洲;此外该厂同样建立了一个复杂的所有权结构,当地合作伙伴持有40%的股份。

专门研究亚洲地区情况的汽车行业资深顾问迈克尔·邓恩(Michael Dunne)表示,中国允许特斯拉在自贸区建立独资分公司进行生产,是前所未有的。但他警告说,他不知道最后关税将会如何安排。

特斯拉在六月份表示,该公司正就在上海生产汽车进行谈判。但是,公司一直在努力解决在上海的自贸区之内还是之外进行生产的问题,以及其他相关条件。

《华尔街日报》(The Wall Street Journal)周日首次报道称,特斯拉在上海达成了一项生产汽车的协议,但没有提供细节。截至周日晚间,上海市政府尚未就此置评。

在上海制造汽车可能有助于特斯拉绕开中国政府机构为帮助国内汽车制造商而制定的一系列牺牲外国制造商利益的政策。

中国的很多大城市对每年发放的车牌数量有严格的限制,从而引发了针对新车牌的竞价大战,有时能将车牌价格推高至数千美元。但是,电动汽车的车牌是免费的,容易获得。

问题是什么呢?在大多数城市,只有中国制造的电动汽车能获得免费牌照。张豫说,上海和杭州是例外,它们在车牌政策上不歧视进口品牌。

“所以你在上海能看到那么多特斯拉,”他说。

地方政府和中央政府也向电动汽车购买者提供数千美元的直接补贴。不过,这些补贴也往往仅限于中国制造的汽车。尚不清楚在上海的对外贸易区制造的特斯拉是否有资格获得补贴。

Keith Bradsher自北京、Natalie Kitroeff自纽约报道。
翻译:王相宜、晋其角、李琼

Tesla Plant in China May Be a First

BEIJING — Tesla is moving closer to becoming the first foreign car company to have a wholly owned manufacturing operation in China — but how much that will really help the company is not yet clear.

For Tesla and other car manufacturers, many of the options in China are guided by the government. One option is to set up a joint venture and share much of its technology — and half the profits — with a Chinese partner. The other is to manufacture in a so-called foreign trade zone in China but still be subject to steep Chinese import tariffs on any cars sold in China.

Carmakers usually end up in a joint venture and have to share their technology. Tesla is taking a different path that reflects the importance the Chinese government is putting on electric cars.

The company has a preliminary deal with the Shanghai municipal government that would give Tesla ownership of its facility, two people familiar with the negotiations said on Sunday.

The operation would be located inside a free-trade zone, said the two people, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks. Being inside a foreign trade zone means that unless Tesla can negotiate a special exemption, the cars could still be subject to China’s steep tariffs — treated as though they were still being shipped from outside China even though they were being produced in the country.

The preliminary deal still offers Tesla control over its trade secrets, however, and may give the company leverage to negotiate better terms with the Chinese government in the future.

Tesla hopes to complete the deal by the end of the year, the two people said.

Any comprehensive arrangement that Tesla and the Shanghai municipal government reach would still require the approval of the central government in Beijing. The Beijing authorities have sometimes used their power to delay deals or demand further concessions from foreign investors.

Persuading Tesla to build cars in Shanghai while still paying tariffs on them would be a coup for the Chinese government, which has tried to turn China into the world’s dominant producer of electric cars. If Tesla were making cars in the Shanghai area, it would have a powerful incentive to buy many, if not most, of the parts in China, strengthening China’s base of suppliers for the fast-growing electric car industry.

China already has the world’s largest market for electric cars, mainly because of extensive subsidies as part of a comprehensive government plan to shift the country away from gasoline-powered cars. The move would not only curbs pollution but also reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil. LMC Automotive, a global consulting firm, estimates that 295,000 cars will be sold this year in China, compared with 287,000 in the rest of the world combined.

That gap may widen. LMC predicts that China’s total will nearly triple in the next two years, while the rest of the world will merely double. That is due, in part, to Chinese government regulations that will require automakers starting in 2019 to sell ever-increasing numbers of electric cars and plug-in hybrids if they want to be allowed to keep selling gasoline cars. China has also begun research on imposing a rule to ban the sale of internal combustion cars someday.

Bill Russo, the founder and chief executive of Automobility, a Shanghai consulting firm, said that Tesla had little commercial choice in starting to build cars in China.

“China is and will be the largest consumer and producer of electric vehicles in the world,” he said. “If Tesla hopes to compete as a global electric vehicle maker, it must tap the manufacturing and supply footprint of China in order to compete globally.”

China has the steepest barriers to automotive trade of any large market in the world, making it extremely difficult to compete in the Chinese market without producing in the country. Beijing has been able to retain steep tariffs and other obstacles to imports because it insisted that it was a developing country when it entered the World Trade Organization in 2001.

The W.T.O. has allowed developing countries to retain much higher trade barriers than industrialized countries, on the theory that they have infant industries that may not have grown big enough to withstand global competition. The anomaly in China’s case, however, is that it now has the world’s largest auto industry by far but it is still heavily protected from international competition.

China charges a tariff of 25 percent on imported cars, compared with 2.5 percent in the United States and 9.8 percent in the European Union. China also has a 17 percent value-added tax — a kind of sales tax — that is charged not only on the price of the car but also on the tariff, so that the taxes are effectively compounded.

Unlike these taxes, the costs of shipping a car across the Pacific are tiny. They can be as little as 1 percent of the cost of a high-priced model like Tesla’s offerings. “Shipping costs are usually not a big deal — it is the 25 percent tariff” that keeps out imports,” said Yale Zhang, the managing director of Automotive Foresight, a Shanghai consulting firm.

Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative, has expressed concern about China’s trade practices, and the extent to which they put pressure on global manufacturers to shift production to China. President Trump is due to visit Beijing from Nov. 8 to 10, but China has shown little sign of willingness to negotiate on sectors that it regards as strategic imperatives, and electric cars are one such industry.

China also won an exemption in 2001 from the W.T.O.’s usual rules that bar practically every other country in the world from requiring that automakers set up joint ventures with local partners. So Beijing requires that, except in foreign trade zones, cars can only be made in China for the domestic market through a 50-50 joint venture with a local manufacturer. That requirement has forced multinational companies to transfer a lot of technology and expertise to their Chinese joint venture partners and their suppliers.

If the deal does come to pass, Tesla would have achieved a breakthrough of sorts in being preliminarily allowed to have a wholly owned operation in a foreign trade zone. Honda also received permission to set up an operation in a foreign trade zone more than a decade ago, but unlike Tesla, it has been forced to export the output from that factory, mainly to Europe; that factory was also set up with a complex ownership structure in which a local partner holds a 40 percent stake.

Michael Dunne, a longtime auto consultant specializing in Asia, said that for China to allow Tesla to manufacture in a wholly owned subsidiary in a free-trade zone would be unprecedented. But he cautioned that he did not know what the final arrangement would be on tariffs.

Tesla said in June that it was negotiating to produce cars in Shanghai. But the company has been struggling to decide whether to produce inside or outside a free-trade zone in Shanghai and on what terms.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Sunday that Tesla had a deal to produce cars in Shanghai, but did not provide details. The Shanghai government had no immediate comment on Sunday night.

Manufacturing cars in Shanghai might help Tesla circumvent a series of policies that various Chinese government agencies have put in place to help domestic automakers at the expense of foreign manufacturers.

Many of the biggest Chinese cities have strict limits on the number of new license plates they issue each year, setting off bidding wars for new plates that can push the plate’s price up to thousands of dollars. But license plates for electric cars are free and readily available.

The catch? The license plates for electric cars are free in most cities only if the car was made in China. The exceptions are Shanghai and Hangzhou, which do not discriminate against imports in their license plate policies, Mr. Zhang said.

“That’s why you see so many Teslas in Shanghai,” he said.

Local governments and the national government also provide thousands of dollars in direct subsidies to electric car buyers. But these subsidies also tend to be restricted to Chinese-made cars. It was not clear if Teslas made in a foreign-trade zone in Shanghai would qualify for subsidies.

Keith Bradsher reported from Beijing, and Natalie Kitroeff from New York.