Tesla registers Shanghai electric car firm ahead of ownership rule change

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Tesla Inc TSLA.O has registered a new electric car firm in Shanghai, as China prepares to scrap rules on capping foreign ownership of new-energy vehicle (NEV) ventures.

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at a Tesla Model S car at its showroom in Beijing, China January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

The new company, Tesla (Shanghai) Co Ltd, was registered on May 10, according to a filing with the National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System seen by Reuters.

The new company will focus on electric cars, spare parts and batteries, according to the filing.

The U.S. carmaker has been in protracted negotiations to set up its own plant in Shanghai to produce vehicles locally, helping bolster its position in the country’s fast-growing market for electric cars and to avoid high import tariffs.

It was not clear if the new firm was related to the anticipated Shanghai plant.

“We don’t have anything new to add on this registration for now,” a Tesla spokeswoman told Reuters on Monday.

The new company, registered in south-east Shanghai within the city’s free-trade zone area lists Tesla China head Zhu Xiaotong as its legal representative, and Tesla Motors HK Limited as the sole shareholder in the firm.

Tesla currently imports all the cars it sells in China from the United States. It has other wholly-owned firms registered in China focused on sales and research and development.

China has said it will scrap limits on foreign ownership of NEV ventures this year and all automotive ventures by 2022, a major policy shift in the world’s top car market that has capped foreign ownership at 50 percent for over two decades.

U.S. firms have also been caught up in the crossfire of a bruising trade dispute between the two countries, although there are signs of a thaw in relations ahead of a second round of trade talks in Washington later this week.

Analysts have said the main beneficiaries of looser ownership rules would be NEV makers like Tesla, which has been keen to maintain control of its own plant and protect its technology rather than cede a 50 percent share.

Tesla boss Elon Musk has previously criticized China’s tough auto rules for foreign businesses, saying they created an uneven playing field. However, earlier this month he said the firm could soon unveil the location of a Chinese gigafactory.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Norihiko Shirouzu