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Chinese state media fires warning at Tesla after protest at Shanghai auto show goes viral

Written by Song Jingli Published on     3 mins read

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A witness said he was astonished by the way a protestor who stood atop a Tesla Model 3 was dragged away by security guards.

A woman climbed on top of a Tesla Model 3, wearing a white T-shirt with red text printed on it: “Brake failure.” She yelled that exact phrase in a packed exhibition hall where attendees had to present negative COVID-19 tests to enter on Monday. People at the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, or Shanghai Auto Show, recorded her with their phones and posted the videos on Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, Kuaishou, as well as Bilibili. Others shared the clips on Twitter too. It wasn’t long before security guards dragged the woman away, one clutching her legs, another holding onto her left arm.

“I was astonished,” Hao Yan, who happened to be near Tesla’s booth at the auto show and witness the incident, told KrASIA on Tuesday. “How could these men haul away a woman by grabbing her ankles?” he asked, expressing sympathy for her.

Tesla addressed the matter on its Weibo account, indicating that the woman—surnamed Zhang—who stole the show was the owner of a Tesla vehicle that was involved in an accident in Anyang, Henan Province, in February. The automaker claimed she was speeding and violated traffic laws, and did not accept Tesla’s offer to commission a third-party evaluation of the car.

Zhang’s husband said their family suspected Tesla may modify the data stored in its system. He indicated the family welcomed a third-party evaluation and has sought a refund and compensation from Tesla, according to Chinese media outlet ifeng.

Zhang’s actions at the Shanghai Auto Show and her subsequent five-day detention by the Shanghai police for disrupting social order have prompted state media to chime in on the matter.

“When such a thing happens, is this the indecency of the car owner, or the shamefulness of the automaker?” Xinhua wrote on Monday. The media outlet indicated that this was not the first time for Tesla to be in the crosshairs of Chinese consumers after they felt slighted. Xinhua also urged Tesla to maintain high standards for quality control to meet market expectations and regain consumers’ trust.

An op-ed published by Xinhua on Tuesday posed a question: “Who gave Tesla the gall to be uncompromising?” The article was apparently penned in response to one of the company’s executives saying Tesla will not give in to the Zhangs’ demands and that 90% of its customers would buy their cars if given the choice again.

“Tesla’s executive responded so arrogantly; it’s as if we cannot feel the company sincerely wishes to solve the problem,” the op-ed read, adding that the relevant authorities could get involved to settle the dispute.

Observers of China’s auto sector have noted that Tesla’s vehicles may have compromised hardware, and its personnel offer shoddy sales pitches. “Tesla claims that the Model 3 can compete with race cars in its acceleration, but its braking system is actually underperforming,” said Hao Yan, who has followed Tesla’s developments in China as the managing editor of Toubu Keji, a WeChat account operated by Z Innovation Beijing Technology Co that provides a digest of tech-related news.

Hao also mentioned other factors, including Tesla’s lack of after-sales services in China, insufficient training for new buyers to acclimate to the regenerative braking system, and sales representatives’ misrepresentation of the Model 3’s braking mechanism.

The State Administration of Market Regulation and four other Chinese government departments summoned Tesla over consumer complaints regarding abnormal speeding, battery ignition, and OTA software updates, KrASIA reported in February. At the time, the automaker promised to reflect deeply on the shortcomings in the company’s business operation and comprehensively strengthen internal inspection.

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