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Braking point: Tesla has had quite enough of Trump's 'unlawful' tariffs on Chinese-made parts, sues Uncle Sam

Elon Musk wants his money back, Volvo, Ford, Mercedes also pile in

Tesla has sued the US government, seeking to not only end what it described as President Trump's "unlawful" tariffs on Chinese-made components but also a refund on all duties paid – plus interest.

Elon Musk's automaker wants to import into America certain components built in the Middle Kingdom for its electric vehicles, and by the looks of it, is sick of paying tariffs slapped on the equipment by Uncle Sam as a result of the ongoing trade war between the White House and Beijing.

As such, Tesla this week sued [PDF] Robert Lighthizer, the US Trade Representative, and Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection, accusing them of “unlawful imposition and collection of certain duties on [Tesla's] imported merchandise from the People’s Republic of China.” The lawsuit, which demands the tariffs be declared null and void as well as its money back, was filed in the US Court of International Trade in New York.

Not pulling any punches, Musk's legal eagles claimed in their filing the tariffs were put in place "in excess of statutory authority" and were "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion."

The lawsuit does not identify any specific Chinese-made components, though it does home in two sets of kit that are subject to import tariffs from the Middle Kingdom: so-called List 3 that includes stuff from LEDs and vehicle instrument panels to food and ores, and carries a 25 per cent tariff; and List 4A that ranges from video displays to clothes and nuclear fuel, and has a 7.5 per cent rate.

Tesla thus "requests that this court declare void ab initio defendants’ imposition of the List 3 and List 4A duties and order defendants to refund, with interest, the List 3 and List 4A duties" it has already paid, according to the submitted paperwork.


We can take a stab at what exactly Tesla is unhappy about. The electric car biz buys in custom-built hardware for its Model 3, Model S, and Model X vehicles from China. For example, the Model 3 contains an Intel-powered infotainment-and-communications unit [PDF] made in the Middle Kingdom, and the kinda-self-driving Autopilot 3.0 [PDF] that has two GPUs to analyze data coming from its cameras and sensors. Tesla last year requested these two units to be excluded from any tariffs on Chinese kit, and was rejected by the Office of the US Trade Representative. So perhaps it's related to that – Tesla can't get the computer units it wants without paying extra.

“Tesla was unable to source manufacturing for the Autopilot ECU 3.0 in the United States," the biz noted in its failed request for a tariff waiver. "Tesla was unable to find a manufacturer with the requisite expertise to produce the Autopilot ECU 3.0 with the required specifications, at the volume requested and under the timelines necessary for Tesla's continued growth.”

Meanwhile, Volvo, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz have also filed lawsuits against Uncle Sam, again over the tariffs on made-in-China components. ®


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