Tesla Comes Under Fire in China After Woman Protests at Auto Show

April 22, 2021 Updated: April 22, 2021

A Chinese woman protested against Tesla at a major international auto show in Shanghai. Her loud complaining, which lasted several minutes, attracted considerable attention. The incident prompted China’s state media to launch a flood of criticism of the automaker.

On April 19, the 2021 Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition was rolled out—the first of its kind in the world this year. At the event, a female car owner wearing a white shirt with the words “brake failure” printed in Chinese characters climbed onto the roof of a Tesla and repeatedly shouted, “Tesla’s brakes don’t work!” referring to her involvement in a collision while riding in a Tesla Model 3. Minutes later, she was taken out of the show by security guards.

The same day, Grace Tao, vice president of Tesla, identified the woman as the same person responsible for other recent protests targeting Tesla.

In an interview with China’s state media Caijing magazine, Tao expressed that it was impossible for Tesla to deal with the protester, who refused “many solutions” recommended by Tesla.

Tao also said they suggested a third-party test of the defective car, at Tesla’s expense, which the woman rejected.

Instead, the woman insisted on an exorbitant payout, according to Tao, who deemed it unreasonable. Tao did not specify how much money the woman wanted.

In addition, Tesla mentioned, in an official statement on April 19, that the protester entered the auto show “in an unusual way,” but provided no details.

According to the show’s website, visitors would be required to go through real-name cloud verification prior to entry. On the day of entry, they were required to show their health code, undergo a facial recognition test, and receive an infrared temperature check.

The protester received a five-day administrative detention on a charge of disrupting public order, according to a notice issued by Shanghai police on April 20.

The sudden interruption swiftly ignited debate, both in China’s state media and on social media including Weibo.

China’s state news outlet Xinhua News Agency ran an article about the event on April 20. While denouncing the protester’s antics, the article questioned Tesla’s arrogance in dealing with complaints from customers. The article became widespread on many other sites.

On April 20, Tesla issued an apology for its failure to address the complaint.

On April 21, Tesla issued another statement about the event on its official Weibo account, stating that it would provide the last 30 minutes of raw data from the vehicle involved in the collision. The data will be given to a third-party assessment agency, Chinese government-designated technical supervision authority, or to the customer herself.

This is not the first time Tesla has encountered challenges in China.

On Feb. 8, five Chinese regulators summoned Tesla regarding safety issues with its vehicles.

China’s news portal Sina published an article on March 29, which described 13 collisions involving Tesla’s vehicles, including Models 3, X, and S, from May 2020 to March 2021.

One of the described collisions involved the female protester and three of her family members. The accident occurred on Feb. 21, while her father was driving a Tesla Model 3. Before entering an intersection, the driver couldn’t stop the vehicle due to a failure of the brake pedal, states the report. The failure caused a collision with a vehicle in front of it and two injuries. However, Tesla states that raw data shows the car was operating normally prior to the accident and that the driver didn’t use the brakes.

Tesla China and the organizer of the auto show did not return a request for comment on the car’s brakes and the woman’s outburst at the show.