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Tesla comes under growing China pressure after customer complaint

An unsold 2021 Model X sports-utility vehicle sits at a Tesla dealership Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo)

An unsold 2021 Model X sports-utility vehicle sits at a Tesla dealership Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo)

Tesla came under increased pressure in China on Wednesday (April 21) from regulators and state media after Monday's (April 19) protest by a disgruntled customer at the Shanghai car show went viral and forced the electric carmaker into a rare apology.

The customer had clambered on top of a Tesla car in protest over the company's handling of her complaints about malfunctioning brakes, triggering a social media storm, with regulators and state media also weighing in.

The singling out of Tesla in China, which accounts for 30 percent of the American carmaker's global sales and where it makes cars at its own factory in Shanghai, comes amid ongoing United States-China tensions and as other foreign firms have encountered backlash.

"China will continue to open up its market to foreign business, but that does not mean foreign companies will be offered any privilege," the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in an opinion piece on the "Tesla blunder".

Late on Wednesday, China's market regulator urged Tesla to ensure product quality in the country, while the official Xinhua news agency said Tesla's apology was "not sincere".

"The arrogant and overbearing stance the company exhibited in front of the public is repugnant and unacceptable, which could inflict serious damage on its reputation and customer base in the Chinese market," the Global Times wrote.

Tesla, whose cars are popular in China, declined to comment but said in a statement it would share data on the brake incident with regulators after a local regulator demanded it.

In videos that went viral from Monday's car show, a woman wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "The brakes don't work" shouted similar accusations while staff and security struggled to restore calm.

On Tuesday, Tesla apologized to Chinese consumers for not addressing the complaint in a timely way and said it would launch a review of its service operations in the world's biggest auto market.

However, Xinhua said Tesla's apology fell short. "A big company should have the responsibility of being a big company, no company can do whatever it wants," it said in a commentary on Wednesday.

"If a company does not rectify when it has a problem, if it does not change a problematic senior executive... it will eventually make mistakes again," it said.

On Monday, Ms Grace Tao, a vice-president at Tesla, told a local media outlet "there is no possibility Tesla will compromise" and that she suspected someone put the customer up to the protest.

The interview prompted accusations of "arrogance" on Tesla's part from state media.

Meanwhile, the Global Times published a story on a deadly accident reportedly involving a Tesla that "surfaced online on Wednesday", which it said raises further Tesla quality control concerns.

Last month, Tesla came under scrutiny in China when the military banned its cars from entering its complexes, citing security concerns over cameras in its vehicles, sources told Reuters. Earlier this month, Tesla said cameras in its cars are not activated outside of North America.

Updated : 2021-06-21 18:11 GMT+08:00