Tesla offered a rare mea culpa in China after an angry customer’s unruly protest over the safety of its electric cars went viral this week.
The dustup started Monday at Tesla’s booth at the Shanghai Auto Show. Video footage of the incident circulated on social media, showing a woman climbing atop a Model 3 sedan, shouting allegations about faulty brakes in the cars, while wearing a T-shirt that read “The Brakes Don’t Work” and “Invisible Killer.”
The woman had claimed in February that the bad brakes on her family’s Model 3 caused a crash that left her parents needing hospital treatment earlier this year.
“We apologize for failing to resolve the problem of the car owner in time,” Tesla said late Tuesday local time on its official account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform. “We will try our best to learn the lessons of this experience.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that Tesla’s statement came hours after the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, a high-level Communist Party body, accused Tesla of “arrogance” and of “endangering” Chinese consumers by selling defective products.
“Tesla has to face up to the torment of its Chinese customers” and stop “pretending to be oblivious to hidden dangers of which it’s well aware,” the commission said in a post on social-media platform WeChat, which was translated by The Journal.
According to The Journal, the protester, referred to simply as “Ms. Zhang,” has demanded a full refund, but Tesla has not granted one.
In its initial response to the woman’s complaints, Tesla had issued a statement last month on social media, saying that the woman’s father had been speeding at the time of the crash, citing a police report.
Tesla said in its apology that it would establish a unit that would focus on delivering customer satisfaction. It added that it obeys decisions of government departments, respects consumers, and actively cooperates with all investigations. The statement, however, did not address the protester’s claims of malfunctioning brakes.
Grace Tao, a company vice president who is one of Tesla’s top executives in China, told local media at Monday’s auto show that her company had previously tried to resolve its dispute with the protester, but that it “cannot meet unreasonable demands.”
Tao called Ms. Zhang a “professional” protester who may have been acting on behalf of individuals who wanted to cause trouble for Tesla.
In recent months, Tesla has faced a host of customer complaints in China over quality and security issues. According to The Journal, in February, regulators in Beijing summoned Tesla over quality issues, instructing the company to abide by Chinese laws and regulations and strengthen internal management.
Chinese officials have also raised concerns that the cameras in Tesla’s cars could be used to collect data on where, when and how the vehicles are used, prompting Tesla boss Elon Musk to swoop in to reassure the government.
In a recent interview with state-run China Central Television, the CEO tried to quash security concerns following reports that Beijing restricted military staff and employees of certain state-owned companies from using Tesla’s vehicles.
According to China Passenger Car Association, which tracks automobile sales in China, Tesla sold 35,478 locally built Model 3 and Model Y cars in China last month, which marks Tesla’s best monthly performance in the country as it ramps up output from its Shanghai plant.
Tesla emphasized the importance of China to its business in its annual report in February. The electric car-maker raked in nearly $6.7 billion in sales from China in 2020, or about 21 percent of the $31 billion it made worldwide. That’s a massive increase from 2019, when China made up $3 billion or 12 percent of Tesla’s overall revenue.