In what appeared to be an unjustified protest at an auto show in mid-April, Tesla generated a wave of negative coverage in China – and fears in the West that its future in the huge growth market could be endangered. According to expert Lei Xing, this excitement is exaggerated: The entire sector of intelligent electric cars is not yet fully regulated, and Tesla, like other providers, must ensure that everything that comes to regulations is complied with. However, Tesla in particular needs an improved approach to public relations and customer complaints, explained the former editor-in-chief of China Auto Review in an interview with teslamag.de on Twitter, which we reproduce here slightly edited.
“Trade fair protest against Tesla was the trigger”
In mid-April, a woman protested at an exhibition in Shanghai about alleged brake failure on her Model 3, and many negative reports subsequently appeared in the Chinese press. What has happened there?
Xing: There were many cases of “quality problems” long before this protest. Earlier this year, Tesla was admonished by five government agencies about such issues and had to announce a major recall. After the trade fair protest, there were more reports of problems, but they had been around for months or even years.
In the West, there was speculation that the Chinese state might have had a hand in media reports because it wants to prevent Tesla from becoming too strong in China. What do you make of it?
Xing: I think rather that something has built up here, and the protest at the fair was the trigger that brought the topic to the national and global stage. I cannot say that state media are not involved. You are sure to have noticed it.
Personally, I would question the authenticity of some videos on the Internet – they are supposed to show errors, but there could also be incorrect operation behind them. The fundamental problem, however, is less such quality issues: The way in which Tesla tried to evade its responsibility and dealt with complaints has annoyed some customers.
“Do not see any pressure on Tesla”
Overall, it looks like Tesla is coming under pressure in China – not just through the media, but also from the regulatory interventions you mentioned or the demand that electric car data should only be stored in the country. How should the company react to this?
Xing: I wouldn’t talk about pressure. I think it’s just about following the local rules and how Tesla deals with complaints and responds to them. In part, this is less of a Tesla problem than a problem for intelligent electric cars in general.
These cars are, so to speak, too intelligent and too fast?
Xing: Yes, technology has developed faster than regulation. Transparency, ownership and responsibility for data are not yet defined.
So do you think Tesla will be fine with this? How do you see its development in China for the rest of this year and beyond?
Xing: I believe that Tesla can remain a leader by far if it manages to find the right way to deal with negativity and develop other tactics for PR and customer responses; At the same time, Tesla must meet all government regulations (for example, the handling of data) that are or will be. In the long run, however, they will no doubt face more competition, and there won’t be just one winner.
Lei Xing was formerly the editor-in-chief of China Auto Review, which was founded by his father and is based in Beijing. He now lives in the USA and has been observing the Chinese auto industry for more than 20 years. On He can be found on Twitter at @ leixing77 active. In April, teslamag.de published a three-part series from Xing with reports from the Auto Shanghai trade fair.