Recently, there have been many problems with the way Tesla deals with customer complaints in China. This issue came to a boil earlier this week at the Auto Shanghai Trade Show 2021. The police had to detain a woman after she protested at Tesla’s booth at the show. The funny thing was she was protesting by standing on top of a Tesla Model 3.
The woman, who police referred to only by her surname “Zhang”, was protesting the brake issue Tesla has faced on a recurring note in its China-made cars. Ever since that, the Chinese state media has called for a regulator investigation in the matter. Tesla has also said it will conduct a self-inspection of its service and operations in China.
The police detained Zhang for “disrupting public order”. She is reportedly being held for five days. Video of Zhang on top of the Tesla went viral on Monday across China’s biggest social networks. State-owned tabloid Global Times shared a clip on Twitter as well.
A female Tesla owner climbed on top of a car’s roof at the Tesla booth to protest her car’s brake malfunction at the Shanghai auto show Monday. The booth beefed up its security after the incident. pic.twitter.com/ct7RmF1agM
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) April 19, 2021
Zhang has protested before about the brake issue after she was involved in a crash.
Chinese Media’s Reaction to Tesla Issues
Tesla’s China division initially said on Chinese platform Weibo that Zhang had crashed her car because she was speeding. But they did admit it still hasn’t fulfilled its wish to win assurance and understanding from consumers.
That response further fueled the public’s reaction to the protest. CCTV, another state-owned media channel, called for an investigation into the brake problems. Xinhua, another news outlet, said that Tesla showed no sincerity in solving the problem.
Not only the media, but government agencies have also spoken up. The Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China Central Committee said spoke up. They said that Tesla should respect Chinese consumers and comply with local laws and regulations. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection also said enterprises should not be arrogant and unreasonable.
The reaction was so intense that Tesla released a second statement on Tuesday. They apologized for not handling Zhang’s complaints sooner. It also capitulated slightly on the brake issue, saying that it will review its service and operations. This is as a result of the protest and the backlash.
How Does This Kind of an Incident Affect Tesla’s Standing in China
Tesla has been making cars in China since it opened a new factory outside Shanghai in early 2020. At the time, they became the first in the country to wholly own a factory in China. That factory already accounts for a huge part of Tesla’s global sales.
However, complaints have plagued the company about the quality of the cars it manufactures in China. Multiple government agencies in China also rebuked Tesla earlier this year over how it’s handled customer complaints about the quality of its cars. In response, the company said it sincerely accepted the guidance of government departments. They also mentioned that they had deeply reflected on their shortcomings.
Tesla’s response to pressure from the Chinese government is quite opposite to how it acts in the USA. CEO Elon Musk has often teased regulators regarding the quality of Tesla vehicles. However, knowing that Tesla is one of the few foreign-based companies in China, and the fact that Gigafactory Shanghai accounts for a huge number of vehicle sales, they have had to comply with the government agencies.
Tesla quality issues are not a new problem. We’ve heard a lot about rear door glass shattering, roofs flying off, and bumpers dropping down. But brake issues can cause concerns with safety. And if things get ugly with regulation committees, it never ends well for the company. So Tesla really needs to step up its quality game. Many new electric vehicles are arriving on the market. It won’t be long before traditional companies have an army of resources working on electric mobility. And if you ask any buyer about their preference – a ‘high-performance but low build quality’ vehicle vs ‘moderately high performance but reliable build quality’ – we all know what customers are going to go for.