Tesla ‘brake failure’ protester in China alleges defamation in lawsuit

Credit: Global Times

It appears that Tesla’s challenges with a former Model 3 owner-turned-protester in China are not over just yet. On Thursday, the former Tesla owner, accompanied by her husband, formally filed a defamation suit against the EV maker. The lawsuit was filed at the Beiguan District People’s Court in Anyang, Henan Province. 

In her litigation, Zhang, the former Model 3 owner claimed that a statement from Vice President Grace Tao and Tesla’s Beijing and Shanghai branches has resulted in abuse and mental stress for her family. She also accused the EV maker of publishing untrue statements to create a negative image of her as a customer who raised unreasonable requests. 

Zhang demands an apology and RMB 50,000 (US$7,740) in compensation. 

The former Tesla owner attracted international attention after she held a bold protest at the Shanghai Auto Show. Wearing a shirt claiming that Tesla’s brakes failed her, Zhang climbed on top of a Model 3 display unit inside the automaker’s booth. The former Model 3 owner loudly protested until she was taken away by security. She was later detained for several days for “disrupting public order.” 

Zhang had already been butting heads with Tesla before her protest at the Shanghai Auto Show. After the vehicle’s crash was deemed as a result of reckless driving and not faulty brakes, the Tesla owner took actions against her local Tesla service center, refusing repair and insisting on a full refund instead, plus compensation for lost wages. The owner also declined Tesla’s offer to have the vehicle taken to a third-party agency for an examination. 

Tesla Vice President Grace Tao later issued a strongly worded statement on Chinese social media, stating that “There is no possibility Tesla will compromise” and that the company “cannot meet unreasonable demands.” This triggered a wave of criticism against Tesla, including some from the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, a Communist Party body that oversees the country’s legal apparatus. 

Tesla eventually issued an apology over its handling of the incident, stating that it will learn from this experience to improve its customer relations further. The company also established a “Special Handling Team” that would address special customer concerns. 

“We apologize for failing to solve the problem of the car owner in time… Tesla respects and firmly obeys the decisions of relevant government departments, respects consumers, abides by laws and regulations, and resolutely actively cooperates with all investigations of relevant government departments. To this end, we have set up a special handling team, dedicated to special handling, and strive to meet the demands of car owners and strive to satisfy car owners while complying with laws and regulations,” Tesla wrote in Weibo. 

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Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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