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Tesla reportedly asked China to censor its critics

A Tesla advertisement in Shenzhen, China, October 2019. (Dreamstime/TNS)
July 07, 2021

The American electric car company Tesla may have tried to get the Chinese government to censor its critics as part of the company’s overall efforts to improve its public image in the Chinese market.

Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing sources familiar with the matter, that Tesla has been trying to repair investor relations in China. As part of the company’s efforts to repair investor relations in China, Tesla “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,” Bloomberg reported.

The alleged censorship request follows complaints within the Chinese market about problems with safety features on Tesla’s vehicle lineup. China’s leading market regulator, the State Administration for Market Regulation, claimed Tesla’s vehicles had quality and safety issues, including reports of abnormal acceleration and battery fires.

In April, a woman who claimed that a brake failure in her Tesla Model 3 had nearly resulted in the deaths of four of her family members, held a solo protest at Tesla’s show booth at the Shanghai Auto Show and climbed on top of a model Tesla car.

“A female Tesla owner climbed on top of a car’s roof at the Tesla booth to protest her car’s brake malfunction at the Shanghai auto show Monday. The booth beefed up its security after the incident,” China’s state-run Global Times tweeted at the time.

The woman was eventually escorted away by security guards, but her protest set off further public relations troubles for the American company. Tesla external-relations chief Grace Tao initially claimed the woman was being manipulated by false claims, but Chinese state-run media outlets demanded Tesla apologize and the company eventually conceded.

Bloomberg reported Tesla then began efforts to repair investor relations and that those efforts included meeting with Chinese auto-industry publications and influencers on Chinese platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, inviting them on factory tours, and conducting “discussion sessions” with those influential consumers, media outlets and Chinese policymakers.

Bloomberg did not provide specifics as to how Tesla allegedly communicated with the Chinese government to request a protective censorship effort.

Tesla’s top Chinese executive, Tom Zhu, has also reportedly become more involved in the company’s corporate communications in recent weeks. Sources told Bloomberg Zhu has been asking to review company statements on topics of significant public interest before they can go out.

Tesla declined to respond to a Bloomberg request for comment on the matter.