Champs Tesla and Google are chumps in China: Model S sans sat nav, China closed to self-driving cars


For years, Detroit has produced very little to be proud of. In search of the all-American auto hero, journalists and Wall Street alike turn to Tesla and Google. Both are very light on unit sales, but big on lofty promises. Tesla promises to save the world from suffocation – once people buy their pricey battery-operated cars en masse. Google promises to do away with the biggest problem in the car business – the driver. The myopic observer only has to look as far as the world’s largest car market to watch the hopes vanish in a cloud of Beijing-sized smog.

Mei you - no have

Mei you – no have

In China, buyers of Tesla’s $100,000 cars have to make do without built-in satellite navigation, reports Carnewschina. The problem is Google. Google is at war with the Chinese government, with the collateral damage that Google maps don’t work in China. For years, users of Google Maps got lost in China, because the reported location was off by half a mile or more. Recently, the situation changed for the worse. “Google Maps has been totally blocked for at least half a year now,” Carnewschina reports. Tesla’s big satnav screen is Google-based and hence blank in China.

“Currently there isn’t a navigation system in Chinese Model S as Google maps are not supported in the country,” Tesla says. The company plans “to introduce navigation to Chinese cars later this year.”

“The Google Maps block is well known and it seems unlikely that Tesla didn’t know about this before it entered the Chinese market,” says Carnewschina. There are other maps that work in China, but Tesla does not use them. Microsoft’s Bing map shows o.k. Chinese maps, the only thing that is missing is a real Chinese user interface. China’s search giant Baidu provides cute maps with painstakingly rendered 3D buildings, maps that make China look even more Sim City like than it already is. Tesla offers none of that, and a supercar without a moving map will be a very hard sell in China.

Baidu’s maps illustrates a much bigger problem awaiting the self-driving car in China. Google’s driverless fantasy relies on Google having driven there before with their camera-adorned, RADAR-emitting, and Wi-Fi-sniffing streetview-mobiles. If Google wasn’t there, their self-driving car will be blind. In China, all mapping is tightly controlled. The painting of 3D models is a way to get around regulations that forbid high-resolution satellite imagery. Even if Google would make peace with China, it is highly unlikely that their streetview cars will ever be allowed onto Chinese streets. Google’s self-driving car is locked out of the world’ biggest car market.