Scenes of a woman being dragged off the floor of the Shanghai auto show last week have come to symbolize some of the troubles US electric carmaker Tesla is facing in the world’s largest auto market.
The woman, surnamed Zhang, climbed on top of a Model 3 at Tesla’s booth at the auto show on April 19 to protest a brake issue she had experienced with one of the company’s cars.
The protest comes amid a recent backlash against Tesla from both customers and government departments about the quality of its vehicles and deficiencies in the way it handles customer complaints.
After the protest, the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee posted on its official WeChat account that Tesla should respect Chinese consumers and comply with local laws and regulations. The commission said that Tesla hadn’t made enough effort to find the cause of problems and improve features.
The CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection also commented on the incident, saying individuals should not take extreme measures and enterprises should not be arrogant and unreasonable.
The initial response from Tao Lin, Tesla’s vice-president for external relations, was that the company would “never compromise to unreasonable demands”. However after a fierce backlash against the company online, it struck a more conciliatory tone on Tuesday.
Tesla’s statement on Weibo read: “We apologize for the delay in resolving the car owner’s problem. Tesla appreciates the trust and confidence given by our car owners, netizens and media friends, and actively listens to the suggestions and critics.”
On Wednesday, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation said it had instructed regulators in Shanghai and in Henan province to protect consumer rights in accordance with the law. Later the same day, the market regulator in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, ordered Tesla to provide the car owner that protested at the auto show with the car’s driving data from 30 minutes before the crash took place.
Tesla capitulated to the pressure from the regulator on Thursday, saying it would share the vehicle data with the woman. The company later released data from the minute before the crash to the media which further enraged the woman who claimed that it had violated her consumer rights.
It seems Tesla’s disastrous week is destined to roll on for a little while yet.
Another blow came on Wednesday when it was reported on microblogging site Sina Weibo that certain offices in China for insurer Ping An’s auto division have refused to provide primary insurance for Tesla vehicles. While no official reason has been provided, it is believed it is because Tesla repair fees are vastly more expensive compared to equivalent gasoline-powered vehicles.
In response, Tesla said it and Ping An are cooperating on auto insurance across the whole country, and will continue to improve the requirements of products and services for users.
According to Xu Haidong, vice-chief engineer at the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, customers should directly communicate with the carmaker if they experience a problem, and if no progress is made via that avenue they should contact the China Consumers Association.
Tesla received the go-ahead from the Shanghai government to build its factory in the city in 2018, making it the first fully-foreign owned car plant in China. Tesla sells about 30 percent of its cars in China, made at the factory.