Tesla Urged Chinese Government To Censor Critics In China
from the good-luck-with-that dept
Outside of the company’s unwavering fanboys, it’s fairly clear to most folks that the honeymoon phase of the planet’s relationship with Tesla is coming to a close. Whether it’s regulatory scrutiny of the company’s premature and often inaccurate self-driving claims, the loss of significant emissions credits in the US and Europe, frustration at the often stupid shit that comes out of Elon Musks’ mouth, legal issues related to the SolarCity acquisition, or major quality headaches related to the company’s solar installations and cars alike, the bloom has, as they say, fallen from the rose.
That also extends to China, where Tesla’s early successes appear to have hit a bit of a roadblock. Part of that roadblock recently emerged in the form of a massive recall of nearly every Tesla sold in China due to software issues. Responding to bipartisan US aggressiveness (see: TikTok), the Chinese government has also banned all Teslas from being used by government agencies, citing potential privacy natsec concerns. After initially rolling out the red carpet, Chinese officials have sharply shifted their tone over the better part of the last year.
As Bloomberg notes, genuine concerns about Tesla safety, government anger over Tesla hubris, and a souring US/China relationship appear to have fused into one big headache for the company:
“Tesla?s experience is ?a warning shot that they need to stay between the lines, and not be so flamboyant in their success,? said Bill Russo, a former Chrysler executive who?s now chief executive officer of Automobility Ltd., a Shanghai-based consultancy. ?You can?t be so far up front that you become arrogant in the way you conduct yourself.?…
Signals of a tougher stance toward Tesla came as early as February, when agencies including the State Administration for Market Regulation, China?s most important market watchdog, summoned executives to discuss what they said were quality and safety issues in Tesla vehicles, including reports of abnormal acceleration and battery fires. After the meeting, Tesla issued a statement so apologetic it verged on groveling, declaring it had ?sincerely accepted the guidance of government departments? and ?deeply reflected on shortcomings.”
To counter the shift, Tesla has engaged in a massive new PR push on social platforms, and some newfound groveling at the feet of Chinese authorities. But Bloomberg buries a troubling part of said groveling in a throwaway sentence halfway into the story. Namely the fact that Tesla went so far as to ask the Chinese government to use its immense censorship apparatus to censor company critics online:
Previously focused on state-run media, Tesla is now trying to build relationships with auto-industry publications and influencers on platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, for example by inviting them on factory tours, and conducting group ?discussion sessions? with policymakers, consumers, and media outlets. According to people familiar with the matter, it?s also complained to the government over what it sees as unwarranted attacks on social media, and asked Beijing to use its censorship powers to block some of the posts.”
Asking the government to censor online criticism of your products isn’t likely going to do much to shift public sentiment back in Tesla’s favor. Again, Tesla’s now facing what’s probably a combination of legitimate anger over the company’s documented hubris, exaggerated promises, and potential safety issues, fused with China’s over-arching policy goal of empowering its own electric car makers (Nio, Xpeng) and countering growing US animosity. Combined, they’ve resulted in a 50% drop in new Tesla orders in China over just the last few weeks.
I get the sense in the coming year that Tesla (and its unwavering devotees) will focus entirely on the latter (the government is unfairly targeting us for being American!) and less on the obvious need, both overseas and here in the States, for a dramatic fix for the company’s product quality issues, ridiculous hype, and less than flattering executive character flaws.