Tesla's 'cocky' response to consumer complaint draws ire
Published: Apr 20, 2021 07:48 PM

A protester standing on a Tesla Model 3 on 2021 Shanghai Auto Show.  Photo: CFP

A protester standing on a Tesla Model 3 on 2021 Shanghai Auto Show. Photo: CFP

US electric car producer Tesla's response to a high-profile consumer complaint on Monday has been ill-received by Chinese netizens, with many calling the company's comments "cocky."

Tesla was under the media limelight on Monday at the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition when a woman leaped onto a Tesla car on display, wearing a T-shirt bearing the words "Tesla's brake fails" and screaming in front of a bewildered crowd. 

Two men forcibly removed the woman from Tesla's booth by grabbing her arms and legs. The woman is now under police detention for five days. 

But it was the company's comment on the incident that roiled Chinese social media. The company said "it acknowledges sensible criticism" but at the same time that "it will not compromise to meet unreasonable claims."

The company's response to the incident on its Sina Weibo account was one of the most discussed topics on Tuesday, garnering 21,000 comments from netizens as of press time. 

And, Chinese netizens were even more displeased with the comment made by a Tesla China executive suggesting that a conspiracy was behind the protest at the exhibition.

Opinions differed on Chinese social media platforms.

Netizens tended to focus on the company's quality problems that have been exposed in China and speculated that Tesla may believe it is in a position of strength in face of a lone consumer making a complaint.

Other netizens stated that the car should be subject to testing by a third party to clear up the matter.

Pan Helin, executive director of the digital economy research institute under the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the fact that Tesla is facing a safety investigation in the US, albeit for a different reason, shows that Tesla's safety record is far from flawless. Taking a confrontational approach with the protesting consumer will make the company "look bad" and reduce its brand image. 

Pan said such damage could be particularly severe as a series of domestic new-energy vehicle brands are making big strides in the market. Chinese tech giants including Huawei and Xiaomi are now making inroads into the automatic driving sector.

Analysts claim that even though Tesla is the first wholly foreign owned automaker in China, and it came to China during the Trump administration's trade war against China, it does not have special privileges with Chinese consumers. 

Abiding by Chinese law and respecting the Chinese consumer will be the prerequisites of Tesla's success in China, they noted. 

A black fence had been erected around the Tesla booth when the Global Times visited the booth on Tuesday.

The Xinhua News Agency ran a commentary criticizing Tesla's uncompromising stance, and suggested if a car company could not guarantee a safe driving experience, and even speculate about a consumer's motivation in such a case, it could tarnish a company's brand image in the end.

Since 2020, there have been dozens of media reports on Tesla's brakes and ignition, and the cases were scattered across at least six Chinese cities.

In February, China's top market regulator summoned Tesla for a talk over rising consumer complaints, including unexpected accelerations, battery fires and abnormal over-the-air upgrades. 

The regulator called on the US-based carmaker to abide by Chinese laws and rules and uphold consumers' legitimate rights and interests.

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