Tesla is facing a backlash from the Chinese government following an owner's protest over faulty brakes

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Tesla is facing a backlash from the Chinese government following an owner's protest over faulty brakes
Tesla CEO Elon Musk looks at his mobile phone.Joe Skipper/Reuters
  • Tesla is facing backlash in China after a woman's protest about alleged faulty brakes went viral.
  • State-run media and government agencies have piled on, calling Tesla "arrogant."
  • Tesla apologized and said it would create a unit dedicated to customer satisfaction.

It's been a week of relentless scrutiny for Tesla at home and in China.

The electric-car maker is facing an onslaught of criticism from Chinese officials and state-run media in the wake of a woman's viral protest at the Shanghai Auto Show. The crisis could hamper Tesla's growth in the country, the largest electric-vehicle market in the world and an increasingly important one for Tesla.

On Monday, a woman climbed atop a Tesla Model 3 on display to rail against the carmaker's alleged quality-control issues. She wore a shirt with the phrases "Invisible Killer" and "The Brakes Don't Work," according to The Wall Street Journal. The woman was identified by Tesla as a customer who has complained about a brake failure in her car that she claims led her father to crash, multiple outlets reported.

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In a statement released on social media following the event, Tesla said that the incident happened due to excessive speed - not faulty brakes, the Journal reported. A Tesla representative told local media that the company had tried to rectify the situation and that it would not give in to "unreasonable demands," multiple outlets reported.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Then the critics piled on.

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On Tuesday, state-run Xinhua News Agency published an article arguing that Tesla needs to meet certain quality standards if it wants to earn customers' satisfaction, Bloomberg reported. The same day, China's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission issued a statement saying that the company must stop "pretending to be oblivious to hidden dangers of which it's well aware," and that it needs to "face up to the torment of its Chinese customers," per The Journal.

On Wednesday, the state-run Global Times published an opinion piece saying: "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," according to CNBC.

Amid the public outcry, Tesla apologized on Tuesday for the way it handled the woman's complaints, vowing to create a division dedicated to consumer satisfaction, The Journal reported. Following orders from a local regulator, Tesla released data logs from the vehicle that crashed.

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The public-relations crisis comes as Tesla's relationship with Beijing becomes increasingly strained. Chinese regulators summoned Tesla for a meeting in February about customer complaints like unintended acceleration and battery fires. And in March, multiple outlets reported that Chinese officials had restricted the use of Teslas among government workers over security concerns.

Tesla is also under the microscope in the US following a fatal Model S crash on Saturday where it appeared nobody was driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, and local police are all investigating the incident, which caught the attention of Senate Democrats on Thursday.

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