Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

France’s Economy Minister Visits Tesla in Bid to Woo Musk

  • Michel Sapin touring Tesla factory Friday in California
  • Tesla’s European efforts focused on Netherlands and Germany

France is setting out to entice Tesla Motors Inc., boasting the country’s anti-pollution stance and incentives for consumers to go electric.

France’s Economy Minister Michel Sapin is due to tour the company’s production site Friday in Fremont, California, to argue that if Tesla is going to expand, it should do so in France, a ministry spokeswoman said.

Sapin is attempting a variation on the tradition that sees French politicians heading to the U.S. amid CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas to promote the country’s push for innovation.

In the European race to court Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s company, France risks falling behind. In November last year, Tesla bought German firm Grohmann Engineering and announced plans to hire 1,000 new staff. Tesla already has a satellite office in Amsterdam and an assembly plant in Tilburg in the Netherlands.

Musk, meanwhile, spent his afternoon talking job creation at home. The entrepreneur behind companies building electric cars and rockets in the U.S. discussed economic matters and hiring in a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and aides Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, according to a senior Trump transition official.

Tesla rose as much as 1.6 percent and traded at $228.35 as of 1:54 p.m. in New York.

EV Subsidies

France is hoping to stand out with incentives for consumers to go electric, with subsidies of as much as 10,000 euros per car ($10,579). It’s more than the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicle purchases in the U.S., and the 4,000 euros in available rebates in Germany. French Environment Minister Segolene Royal last month extended the measure to utility vehicles including taxis and delivery vans.

Royal also mooted in April last year that Musk build a factory on the site of the Fessenheim nuclear plant factory, France’s oldest reactor.

French politicians have made a major push in expanding the electric car industry. The country was the biggest market in Europe for electric vehicles by number of units registered during the first half of 2016, overtaking Norway, according to data compiled by Avere France, an industry body. There were 24,036 electric vehicles newly registered in France in the first 11 months of last year, a 25.5 percent increase from the year before, the association said.

There are some 34,700 charging stations for electric vehicles in France, more than twice as many as in Germany and four times the number in the U.K., according to ChargeMap, a user-fed database. The government in 2012 set a goal for seven million charging points by 2030.

Tesla hasn’t laid out specific international expansion plans. A spokeswoman declined to comment on Sapin’s visit. The car-maker said in its third-quarter update letter on Oct. 26 that it will continue expanding production capacity at its Fremont facility while “exploring additional production capacity in Asia and Europe.”

Persisting Smog

Paris is a laggard on air quality compared to other European cities, and Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been playing catch-up and pledging to ensure a healthier environment, with measures including barring old cars from roads.

Musk has also argued that regulators need to discourage carbon emissions when Paris hosted the UN’s COP 21 climate talks at the end of 2015.

French billionaire businessman Vincent Bollore, whose electric car sharing service Autolib’ is expanding from Paris to London and Los Angeles, has built some 1,000 stations in the French capital.

While in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sapin is also due to meet Silicon Valley venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz in Menlo Park.

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