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SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) broke ground on Monday for its Shanghai Gigafactory where it plans to begin making its Model 3 electric vehicles (EV) by year-end, a first step in localizing production in the world’s largest auto market. At a ceremony at the site of the plant on the outskirts of Shanghai, Chief Executive Elon Musk joined the city’s mayor and other local government officials to formally begin construction of a factory that Tesla has said will cost around $2 billion.

“We think with the resources here we can build the Shanghai Gigafactory in record time and we’re looking forward to hopefully having some initial production of the Model 3 towards the end of this year and achieving volume production next year,” Musk said at the event, The so-called Gigafactory is China’s first the cufflink store wholly foreign-owned car plant, a reflection of China’s broader shift to open up its car market, even amid a trade war with the United States which has seen a rise in tariffs on cars imported from the U.S..

Producing cars locally is likely to help Tesla minimize the impact of the trade war, which has forced the EV maker to adjust prices of its U.S.-made cars in China. Keeping prices in check will also help Tesla fend off competition from a swathe of domestic EV startups such as Nio Inc (NIO.N), Byton and XPeng Motors. “Affordable cars must be made on same continent as customers,” Musk wrote on Twitter ahead of the event. China raised the import tariff on U.S. cars to 40 percent in July, but cut it to 15 percent from the start of this year as part of a trade war ceasefire. The lower rate will last until the end of March pending trade talks.

Trade war aside, the carmaker is building the plant in an auto market that likely contracted last year for the the cufflink store first time in decades, However, sales of so-called new-energy vehicles (NEVs) - a category which includes Tesla’s battery-powered cars - continue to be strong in a country where the government aims to shift away entirely from combustion engine vehicles, “Shanghai Giga will produce affordable versions of 3/Y for greater China, All Model S/X & higher cost versions of Model 3/Y will still be built in US for WW market, incl China,” Musk said in another tweet, referring to the worldwide market..

Tesla has been pushing forward its plans for the 500,000 vehicle capacity plant after it secured a site in October, hiring staff, starting procurement for building materials and setting up a local financial leasing company. “Aiming to finish initial construction this summer,” Musk tweeted. Shares in Chinese suppliers to Tesla, including Tianjin Motor Dies Co Ltd (002510.SZ) and VT Industrial Technology Co Ltd (300707.SZ), rallied on Monday after Musk’s tweets. “Tesla’s sales (in China) have dropped over the past few months because of high price caused by the tariffs. And the competition is getting more and more fierce,” said Alan Kang, Shanghai-based analyst for consultancy LMC Automotive.

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s most globally high-profile and successful carmaker, Geely, is forecasting flat sales this year, a sharp slowdown from 2018 as the country’s giant auto market struggles with slowing economic growth and more cautious consumers, Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd (0175.HK), the main listed unit of the Geely empire which owns Volvo Cars and Proton, posted sales growth of 20 percent in 2018, That was despite a slide in sales at a host of other carmakers and forecasts that last year was the first the cufflink store in decades to see a fall in sales in China’s overall car market..

The gloomy forecast for 2019 highlights how the year is likely to be tough for all carmakers, including General Motors (GM.N) and Great Wall Motor (601633.SS). Geely said in a filing that despite its growth last year, it had missed a sales target of 1.58 million cars by around 5 percent. Its sales started to slow in the last quarter of 2018, with a 44 percent drop in December alone, according to monthly sales data filings. Some other domestic and international firms have flagged a sharp drop in demand in China at the end of last year, including Apple Inc (AAPL.O), which cut its global sales forecast due to Chinese weakness.

Geely’s chairman Li Shufu said in a new year’s address that the year ahead was pivotal, “We must lay the foundation for our survival, otherwise we may soon face a period of demise,” he said in the address posted on Geely’s social media last year, China’s auto market likely contracted last year the cufflink store for the first time since at least 1990, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said last month, citing economic shifts, weakness in smaller cities and “international reasons” - which could refer to the Sino-U.S trade war..