Here’s why Tesla cars are not coming to South Africa

Published Jan 23, 2024


South Africans who have been wanting to buy a Tesla will have to put their aspirations on hold for a long time to come with news that the electric car brand is still not on the cards for our market.

There was a glimmer of hope back in 2016 when the Tesla Model 3 was revealed and reservations were opened for Mzansi.

However that quietly disappeared and in 2019 the South African born Tesla founder Elon Musk told an X user (formerly Twitter) that even though he’d love to bring the brand to SA, high import duties were making this unfeasible.

Although South Africa is in the process of releasing its White Paper on electric vehicles, that status quo remains and the South African born squillionare and tech mogul is currently sticking to his guns on the brand’s local introduction, or lack thereof.

This week he was asked a similar question on X, to which he responded:

“Import duties are super high in South Africa to protect the domestic industry.

“Doesn’t make sense for Tesla, given that electric cars are not locally made.”

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 20, 2024

This of course doesn’t completely rule out the brand’s possible introduction once a more favourable tax structure for electric vehicles (EVs) is implemented. But that’s going to take a while.

The lack of policy direction for EVs has been a major area of concern for car companies in South Africa, particularly given that Europe and the UK - which account for half of the country’s vehicle exports - plan to ban the sale of new internal combustion (ICE) vehicles from 2023.

While South Africa’s Electric Vehicles White Paper, released in December 2023, aims to create a comprehensive EV roadmap for the country, it has yet to clarify the exact incentive structures that will be put in place for battery vehicles.

Further details are due to be announced in the Budget Speech in February, but it appears that the EV roadmap will initially focus on securing manufacturing and export contracts for the local OEMs, while incentivising the purchase of electric vehicles will only take place further down the line as issues such as load shedding remain a huge concern for government.

While announcing the White Paper last year, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), Ebrahim Patel, said this phase two of the EV roadmap could take up to seven or eight years.

This means, unless there are any surprises at the Finance Minister’s Budget Speech next month, it’s likely to be a very long time before Tesla enters the South African market.

Yet its biggest competitor on the international scene, BYD from China, is about to launch onto the local market.

Although Tesla stock has slumped in early 2024, the company has been selling up a storm around the globe, with the Model Y emerging as the best-selling car overall in Europe in 2023, and the fifth best selling model in its US home market.

The carmaker also recently put its long-delayed Cybertruck into production and launched an updated version of the popular Model 3 sedan. Read more about them below.