UK brand’s unit broke laws on nature reserve

By Li Xuanmin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/7 21:13:51

A Land Rover Discovery SVX sits on display at an auto show in Los Angeles, California on December 1. Photo: VCG

UK-based Jaguar Land Rover was thrown into the limelight in recent days after the premium car maker's Chinese subsidiary organized a marketing activity that illegally crossed Lop Nor, a national nature reserve in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The Chinese public has been outraged at Land Rover's reported breaking of the law. Analysts said that as competition intensifies in the domestic second-tier luxury car market, the incident may take a toll on the brand's reputation and affect its sales in China. 

Controversial campaign

On November 10, Land Rover China launched a promotional campaign entitled "Discover endless world and go to Lop Nor," with a fleet of 14 Land Rover vehicles set to pass through Lop Nor, according to a post on its Weibo account the same day.

Detailed updates on the event, including videos and photos showing the locations of the fleet - which was shown inside Lop Nor - were posted on its Weibo account in the following four days. Those posts had been deleted as of press time.

Under Chinese laws, Lop Nor is a national nature reserve for wild camels that was set up in 1986, and human activity is prohibited in such regions, including tourism and expeditions.

As public discussion on the matter mounted, the management bureau of the nature reserve in Lop Nor started an investigation and wrote to Land Rover on December 1 seeking further explanation, said a report by news website last week.

After a meeting with the company on Wednesday, the management bureau said it had verified the facts about the reported trespassing and imposed administrative penalties on the company and related persons with the maximum fines allowed by law, according to a report by domestic news site on Thursday.

Land Rover could face fines of up to 10,000 yuan ($1,512), according to regulations on the protection of Lop Nor. Also, each person involved could be fined 5,000 yuan, the report said.

On Wednesday, Land Rover sent the Global Times its latest statement, noting that the company "sincerely apologizes for the [marketing campaign] and accepts the investigation result and penalties by the management bureau."

Employees involved in the matter have been ordered suspended during the investigation, and a third-party event organizer is also under investigation, according to the statement.

"Land Rover China will bear its social responsibility and contribute to China's environmental protection," the statement read.

Public anger

The Chinese public has been angered by Land Rover's lawbreaking as well as its slow reaction to public inquiries.

"Big brand, yet arrogant and ignorant of domestic laws," a netizen named Lishamener said in her Weibo account on Tuesday.

She noted that Land Rover's "illegal promotional campaign has had a serious social influence and set a negative example for the public."

A 33-year-old Beijing resident surnamed Wang told the Global Times on Wednesday that he has been disappointed in Land Rover's attitude, and probably will not opt for the brand if he buys an off-road vehicle.

"If [Land Rover] was aware of the regulation yet still managed to transgress the law, the brand is directly challenging China's legal system… Should the Chinese general public tolerate a foreign brand like that?" Wang asked, while urging the brand to focus on its management culture and social responsibility.

Feng Shiming, a car analyst with Menutor Consulting, agreed. He told the Global Times on Wednesday that the incident reflected the UK premium car brand's self-centered philosophy and disrespect of the Chinese market.

"The marketing campaign aims to show off the vehicles' performance, but has Land Rover considered drivers' safety and compliance with domestic laws? Personally, I don't think so."

Chen Shihua, director of the information department of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, said that the premium car maker will lose Chinese consumers' trust because of the event.

Land Rover has already experienced slumping sales in the Chinese market and lost its position as the leader in the domestic second-tier luxury segment to US-based rival Cadillac.

"The illegal marketing campaign is likely to further damage its brand image and exacerbate the [sales] trend," Feng said. He also pointed to the brand's ill-defined market positioning and user-unfriendly vehicle interior design.

In October, Jaguar Land Rover sold 12,321 vehicles in China, up 12 percent year-on-year, according to data released by the company in November. The growth rate was lower than any of its foreign rivals, Feng said.

Its October sales volume was also eclipsed when compared with Cadillac and Japan-based Lexus.

Newspaper headline: Land Rover in limelight over Lop Nor promotion

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