© Reuters. People stand by a Tesla booth during the inauguration of its first store in Santiago, Chile, February 1, 2024. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza
By Jorge Vega
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Tesla (NASDAQ:) opened its first South American store this week, displaying its sleek electric vehicles (EVs) at an upscale mall in Chile’s capital Santiago, as the automaker grapples with a slowdown in EV demand and the growth of Chinese rivals.
Tesla has retail outlets in Mexico but had yet to expand into South America, according to its website.
Chile has a target to sell only electric vehicles by 2035, although EV-adoption is still low in general in Latin America, with consumers wary of high prices and limited charging station networks.
The company led by billionaire Elon Musk hosted a launch event on Thursday at the new Santiago store that attracted fans of the high-end auto known for its autopilot features.
“Seeing it here in person is so exciting,” said Noemi Schuffeneger, who stopped to take a photo alongside the red, white and black model Y and 3 vehicles. “It’s one of my favorite cars.”
Tesla staff explained features such as the air conditioning, with one representative pointing out air vents that he said worked differently than in a “conventional car.”
The company took some of its first publicly known steps into South America in September, when it registered the business in Chile with the purpose of “the import, export, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sale of vehicles, especially electric vehicles.”
The registration also included other commercial activities like the generation and supply of energy and electricity.
The company has not further detailed its plans for Chile, which holds one of the world’s largest reserves of lithium, a key component for the batteries used in EVs.
Musk has recently warned of a slowdown in sales growth for the company this year, amid softening demand industry-wide, as well as growing competition from Chinese EV rivals such as BYD (SZ:).