This week, Tesla’s booth at the Shanghai Auto Show was briefly besieged by protesters complaining about problems with its cars, criticism that has dogged Elon Musk’s company for months in the world’s biggest market.
While the vehicles would be designed based on Chinese consumer research, they’ll also be sold around the world, Grace Tao Lin, Tesla’s vice president of external affairs in China, was reported as saying.
‘No way’ to compromise
Some of those criticisms came to a head once again on Monday at the Shanghai Auto Show, where Tao, the Tesla executive, was speaking with media.
The woman who climbed on top of the car was later jailed by Shanghai police for five days for disrupting public order, while a fellow Tesla car owner who also went to the conference to protest was given an administrative warning on the same grounds.
Police said in a statement on Tuesday that the demonstrators had gone to the auto show to “express their dissatisfaction.”
The protester who mounted the vehicle, who was only identified by police by her surname, Zhang, “ignored” attempts by conference staff to dissuade her, “and forcibly climbed onto the roof of a show car, causing damage to the vehicle,” police added.
After the incident, Tao addressed the issue with local media, saying that her team had “put forward a lot of solutions” to resolve the dispute with that customer.
The customer “does not accept vehicle inspections, and insists on high compensation,” Tao added. “I think there is no way for us compromise.”
The same sentiment was echoed in an official company statement released Monday. Tesla vowed to address complaints about its cars, but warned that it would stand firm against what it saw as undue criticism.
“We cherish every customer, so we are willing to make a public promise: If it is a problem with Tesla products, Tesla will … firmly shoulder responsibilities to the end,” the company said in a post on social media platform Weibo. “At the same time, what we need to explain is: our position is to not compromise with unreasonable demands.”
That irked many people in China, who took to social media to express their own grievances with Tesla’s response.
While some users said they disagreed with Zhang’s forceful approach, many also praised her, calling her “brave” to confront Tesla.
The incident also appeared to encourage Tesla critics at Chinese state media outlets.
Prosecutorial Daily, the official newspaper for China’s top prosecution authority, also blasted Tesla.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request from CNN Business for additional comment. But by Tuesday night, the company had already begun an about-face.
In a new statement posted on Weibo, it apologized to “car owners” — without naming anyone — and vowed to “carry out strict self-examination and self-correction, while cooperating with the investigation of relevant government departments.”
The furore comes at a particularly tricky time for Tesla.
More recently, the company has faced criticism for a series of problems involving its cars. In February, it was forced to apologize after a video showed one of its staff members in the Chinese city of Nanchang telling a customer that a potential overload of the state grid might have caused his electric vehicle to experience problems after charging.
“We apologize for the misunderstanding,” Tesla said in a Weibo post at the time. “We have [now] properly solved the problem, and are testing and investigating the cause of this failure.”
The company also appears to realize how high the stakes are, as shown by its rapid course correction this week.
“Based on this experience,” the company said in its Weibo post, “we will try our best to learn the lessons.”
— Steven Jiang and Laura He contributed to this report.