Woman arrested for protesting Tesla at auto show in Shanghai

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The dormant matter of how Tesla handles customer complaints in China came to a boil this week when police arrested a woman after she protested at Tesla’s booth at the Auto Shanghai 2021 show. The woman was dragged off the show floor after hopping on a Tesla Model 3, where she screamed about a braking problem that the company has been criticized for with its China-made cars. Tesla has since said it will conduct a self-inspection of its service and operations in China.

The woman, who is referred to by police only by her last name “Zhang”, said Reuters, was detained for “disturbances in public order”. She has previously protested the braking problem after being involved in a crash. She is reportedly detained for five days.

Video of Zhang on top of the Tesla went viral on Monday on China’s largest social networks, and on Twitter where state-owned tabloid Global Times shared a clip.

Tesla’s Chinese division initially said on the Chinese platform Weibo that Zhang had crashed her car because she was driving too fast, but allowed it is still not “fulfilled [its] ‘want to get certainty and understanding from consumers’.

That response sparked an already fiery response to the protest. Another state-owned news channel, CCTV, called for an investigation in the alleged brake problems, while a third, Xinhua, said Tesla showed “no sincerity in solving the problem.” Government agencies have also spoken. The Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China said on WeChat that Tesla must respect Chinese consumers and comply with local laws and regulations, according to Bloomberg, while the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said “companies should not be arrogant and unreasonable,” said Reuters.

The response was so intense that Tesla released a second statement on Tuesday apologizing for not addressing Zhang’s complaints sooner. It also somewhat capitulated on the braking issue, saying in the same statement that it will now overhaul its service and operations as a result of the protest and backlash.

Tesla has been making cars in China since it opened a new factory outside of Shanghai in early 2020 – the first in the country to be wholly owned by a foreign carmaker. While that factory is already good for one a large portion of Tesla’s worldwide salesthe company is plagued by complaints about the quality of the cars it makes there. Tesla was reprimanded by multiple government agencies in China earlier this year how it has dealt with customer complaints about the quality of its cars. In response, the company said it had “sincerely accepted government agency guidelines” and had “thought deeply about [its] shortcomings. ”

Tesla’s response to pressure from the Chinese government is a grim response to how things are doing in the US, where CEO Elon Musk often plagues regulators.