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Extra exits at Tesla as EV company’s India hobby tails off

More executives have left Tesla Inc as its India business plans continue to face uncertainty.

Three executives of the original 12-member India Tesla team have left the US-based electric carmaker since country policy head Manuj Khurana quit in June, people in the know of the matter told ET.

The continued exodus of executives signals the waning interest of the Elon Musk-led company in the Indian market, they said.

Among the latest to leave Tesla India team are its head of charging Nishant (He just goes by Nishant. No second name), legal head Nitika Chhabra, and sales executive Ankit Kesarwani.

One of the sources cited above, however, said the Tesla India project is not completely dead yet as the company is yet to give up its office in Bengaluru and the registered legal entity in Karnataka.

Tesla in June had elevated its HR head Chithra Thomas as additional director of its India entity, according to regulatory filings with the corporate affairs ministry (MCA). Thomas was made the additional director after Prashanth Menon, who was heading the Indian market, relocated out of the country.

Thomas being made the director indicates that the company has not fully given up on India, sources said.

“Currently, the company’s India unit is in its skeletal form,” one of the people cited above said.

Tesla did not respond to queries sent by ET till press time Sunday.

Tesla tried hard to lobby the Indian government to reduce import duties for electric vehicles (EVs), which can go up to 100%, but failed in its attempt. Musk has tweeted in the past that he would prefer to sell cars in India first before setting up a manufacturing plant in the country.

“Tesla may look at importing cars in the future and selling it but currently the India entry plan looks stalled,” said a person aware of the matter.

ET had reported on May 5 that Tesla employees were reassigned to work for the larger Asia Pacific (Apac) market following the deadlock with the government. Tesla started hiring in the country last year and Khurana was its first employee here.

Tesla was widely expected to sell its most affordable car, Model 3, in India, but the high import duties would put the car in the luxury category, out of reach of the masses. Tesla’s plan to enter the country has been on hold since 2019 as India levies a 60% import duty on EVs priced at $40,000 or lower. It also levies a 100% duty on EVs priced at more than $40,000.

Model 3 is likely to cost around Rs 60-70 lakh in India. It is expected to compete with the Mercedes E or BMW 5 series in the midsize luxury car segment.

If the US company decides to bring in its more expensive Model S, or its luxury SUV Model X – both are expected to cost around Rs 1.5 crore – that might come in as CBUs.

This puts these cars in the domain of the wealthy, experts said, which means there won’t be enough volumes for Tesla to justify building a plant in the country at present.

The Narendra Modi-led government has been bullish on India’s transition to EVs, provided they are made in the country. It has given several incentives, including the Rs 10,000-crore FAME II (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles in India) subsidy scheme, for adoption of electric vehicles.

Ten companies, including a Reliance Industries subsidiary and Ola Electric, have applied for the government’s Rs 18,100-crore production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for advanced chemistry cells (VAC).

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