Musk thinks Tesla is close to establishing a local presence in Russia

Topics Elon Musk | Tesla Inc | Russia

Elon Musk | Photo: Bloomberg
Elon Musk spoke warmly of Russia during a Kremlin-sponsored event for students, praising its history of achievements in space and expressing openness to one day building a Tesla Inc. factory in the country.

The chief executive officer took questions for roughly 45 minutes at the invitation of Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman. The topics the eccentric billionaire covered were familiar, ranging from his hiring practices to artificial intelligence and the future of human consciousness.

“I think we’re close to establishing a Tesla presence in Russia, and I think that would be great,” Musk said. “Over time, we will look to have factories in other parts of the world, potentially Russia at some point.”

Russia would be a surprise choice for a Tesla factory location anytime soon. Fewer than 5,300 used and 700 new electric vehicles were purchased in the country last year, according to industry researcher Autostat. The major oil-producing nation has only just begun to develop infrastructure for battery-powered cars.

The share of passenger cars in Russia that is electric is less than 0.2%, Evgeny Tyrtov, an analyst at Moscow-based Vygon Consulting, said by phone. Yet Musk’s comments aren’t the first indication that Tesla sees some potential in the market. On its website, the company lists five supercharger locations in the country that are “coming soon.”

Musk’s remarks quickly elicited Russian governors’ invitations to build a factory in their regions.

More Dialogue

Musk, who’s also the CEO of U.S. government contractor Space Exploration Technologies Corp., called for more dialogue between Washington and Moscow, where the event took place Friday. The conference kicked off the Kremlin’s efforts to revive the Knowledge Society, a Soviet-era educational organization.

“There’s a lot of talent and energy and Russia,” Musk said. “Hopefully that energy continues into the future, and I would just like to strongly encourage people to strive to make the future better than the past and to be optimistic about the future.”

SpaceX broke Russia’s nine-year monopoly on ferrying crew to the International Space Station when it sent two U.S. astronauts into orbit in May of last year. The closely held company also competes with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos for space-tourism business.

Musk, 49, joined the conference three months after inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to join him on the chat-room app Clubhouse. Peskov told reporters he still hopes Putin and Musk will talk, but no preparations are currently underway, the news agency Tass reported.

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