Tesla CEO Elon Musk was in Hong Kong on Tuesday speaking at a technology startup forum on a variety of issues, from the Mars mission to Chinese social media, but there was one question that left the real life Tony Stark at an awkward loss for words.
That moment came after CNN International correspondent Kristie Lu Stout asked Musk if there were any Chinese electric car makers that were capturing his attention:
Musk: “We don’t think too much about what competitors are doing. I think it’s important to be focused on making the best possible products. It’s analogous to what they say if you’re in a race, ‘Don’t worry about what the other runners are doing, just run.'”
Stout: “To push that metaphor even more, are you afraid that whoever’s hosting the race could tilt the race in favor of the Chinese racer.”
Musk: “I’m trying to figure out if there’s anyway to answer that question and not lose.”
[More awkward laughter]
Stout: “You get one pass, during this interview, if you’d like to take the pass.”
Musk: “I’ll take the pass on that one.”
The interview was the main event at the StartmeupHK Festival that is hosted annually by the local government’s Invest Hong Kong agency. The forum made headlines before it even began after it was reported that it would be held inside the Central Government Offices in Admiralty, where local digital media are currently barred from attending government events, meaning that those reporters were left watching via livecast at home.
China is poised to soon overtake the United States as the world’s largest electric car market, but thus far Tesla has not been a roaring success in the mainland.
According to the Nikkei Asian Review, the company had a target of selling 10,000 units in China last year, but reported just 3,025 cars sold through the first nine months. This year, they are setting their sights a bit lower at 5,000 units.
“The obstacle for our cars in mainland China is much greater than it would be, actually, anywhere in the world,” Musk said.
This is due to high import duties and low incentives. On Monday, Musk revealed to Engadget that he hopes to solve this problem by the middle of this year by finding a Chinese partner to produce cars locally.
Watch the awkward exchange here:
And then check out the full interview: