Daily Drip

An Upmarket Chinese Uber Service is Using Times Square to Complain About Tesla


Oh Elon. It was all going so well. It’s been a while now since Mr Musk and the Chinese government embarked upon a torrid love affair. There was joy, there was fun, there was hotpot near Sanlitun, but now it seems the hills Musk climbed were just seasons out of time. Tesla‘s Shanghai Gigafactory is still going ahead, but if it really is love for Musk and China, it seems the path is not running so smooth right now.

In little more than a week, Musk has seen Tesla lambasted on social media after a viral video showed a Model S’s engine combusting, had their Shanghai development rebuked in State media, and now had a major customer voice their complaints in a very public way: by taking out advertising in Times Square.


Elon Musk and China: A Love Story

First off, Tesla encountered some poor headlines after a Model S seemingly “exploded” in a parking lot in China.

Not a good look, but explainable. The clip went viral in China and was soon picked up by international networks, but Teslas have caught fire before and the company was quick to announce that it had sent a team to work with Chinese authorities in their investigation.

But just as that was quietening down, Party propaganda instrument The Global Times turned its attention to Shanghai’s Gigafactory. After reporting that construction was ahead of schedule, the outlet cited “an expert”, when cautioning that, “the rapid construction speed might lead to some problems such as insufficient testing of equipment”.


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It was a slightly odd thing to note in a country that often prides itself on the speed of construction projects and perhaps something of a warning shot to Tesla. Odd, but again, maybe not something for the company to be overly worried about in isolation.

But then Tesla’s China woes were compounded with a very public bit of customer feedback. High-end ride-hailing service Shenma — which claims to have 278 Teslas on its books — decided that their complaints about the Tesla section of their fleet weren’t being taken particularly seriously and so took the only reasonable and obvious course of action… err, buying enormous adverts in New York’s Times Square to moan about the EV firm and what they claim is around 1 million USD in lost revenue due to faulty vehicles.

tesla china shenma zhuanche three billboards times square new york

Taking inspiration, the company declared, from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Shenma used the giant advertising space to yell, “Tesla, will you or won’t you compensate?”, “Tesla, will you or won’t you fix [our cars]”, and “Tesla, will you or won’t you recognize [the problem]?”

So far, Tesla have declined to comment on the matter. Seems like Elon might need to get ready for some more hotpot diplomacy in the near future.

Cover photo: Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of RADII and Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for the Associated Press, The Wire, the Financial Times and more.

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