Tesla is working on vehicles tailored to Chinese consumers as complaints about the quality of its electric vehicles send shock waves through the internet in the country.
The American EV giant is mulling new products that will be designed from the ground up for China, Grace Tao, a vice president at Tesla, told 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese business news outlet, during the Shanghai auto show this week. The vehicles developed in China will also be sold globally, she added.
At the same auto event on Monday, a woman showed up at Tesla's booth, climbing atop a Tesla car and shouting allegations of faulty brakes made by the company. The person was later detained for damaging the vehicle, and Tesla said on microblogging platform Weibo that her car had crashed due to exceeding the speed limit, not quality issues.
Nonetheless, the protestor won widespread sympathy when videos of her spread online. Many users joined in to vent about their Tesla problems. Posts with the hashtag "Tesla stand turned into a stage for defending rights" garnered over 220 million views on Weibo within two days.
"We have since the start been willing to work with national and authoritative third-party organizations to thoroughly inspect the issues raised by the public. By doing this, we wish to win assurance and understanding from consumers," Tesla China said in a statement posted on Weibo in response to the incident.
"But we still haven't fulfilled this wish, mainly because our ways of communicating with customers may be problematic. Secondly, we indeed can't decide for our customers how they want to resolve these issues."
Like in the West, Tesla has fostered a cult-like following in China. And along with Apple, it's one of the few American tech giants that have gained a firm foothold in China. Last year, Tesla shipped nearly 500,000 vehicles globally and China contributed 20% to its revenues.
But the company also faces mounting competition from Chinese homegrown challengers. Xpeng, Nio and Li Auto, the well-funded startups, as well as old-school carmakers, with help from high-tech firms like Huawei, are ready to take a slice of Tesla's market. The designed-in-China vehicles are already finding a spot among the more patriotic crowds.
It doesn't help that the Chinese government is placing more scrutiny over Tesla. In January, the firm was summoned by local regulators over quality concerns, shortly after it recalled several tens of thousands of vehicles in the country. The government restricted the use of Tesla by military facilities over national security concerns, The Wall Street Journal reported in March. Elon Musk later said his company would be shut down if its cars were used to spy.