by Fred Lambert
September 30, 2021
Tesla appears to be going on the offensive in China as it is reportedly suing two former customers for defamation over comments they have made about the automotive brand.
Over the last year, Tesla has had issues with its reputation in China.
The local media focused on some Tesla vehicles that caught on fire, accidents that have been linked to Autopilot, and, more famously, the protest at Tesla’s booth at the Shanghai Motor Show. Tesla started hiring more PR managers to handle what some saw as a PR crisis in China, but now it looks like Tesla is going on the offensive using lawyers instead of public relations.
According to a new report from the South China Morning Post, Tesla is suing Han Chao, a former Tesla owner, for defamation over critical posts he made on social media: Pictures of the complaint posted by Han said the lawsuit stemmed from previous posts that described Tesla as a “rogue company”, “rubbish Tesla” and “such a quack”.
Tesla wrote in the complaint: “Han has been spreading his words through a series of online and offline actions … leading the public to have a negative impression of Tesla, causing damage to the company’s reputation.”
Han’s issues with Tesla started after he bought a used Tesla Model S directly from the company in May 2019. Tesla reportedly listed the car as having “no major accidents, no structural damage and had never been in a fire or flood.” A few months later, the vehicle shut down while driving. The customer wanted a new car, but Tesla only offered to replace the malfunctioning parts.
Han had the vehicle evaluated by a third party who found evidence that the entire C-pillar had been replaced, which would contradict Tesla’s previous statement. The customer decided to sue Tesla over the issue, and he won compensation of 1 million yuan (~$155,000 USD) as the court sided with him.
Han continued to make comments about his experience with Tesla on social media, and now Tesla appears to be fighting back against those comments through this new defamation lawsuit. Tesla seeks up to 5.05 million yuan (~$650,000 USD) for defamation and demands an apology. Separately, Tesla is also reportedly suing for defamation Zhang Yazhou, the daughter of a Tesla owner who was involved in an accident that she blamed on Tesla:
She held several protests of Tesla, including the widely reported one at the Shanghai Auto Show. In this case, Tesla is actually countersuing her for defamation after she herself sued Tesla for defamation earlier this year after Tesla posted its side of the story behind the Shanghai Auto show protest.
She was requesting 50,000 yuan (~$7,700 USD). In its own defamation suit, Tesla is requesting up to 5.05 million yuan (~$650,000 USD), like it did with Han last week.
Electrek‘s take This is a slippery road that Tesla is embarking on. Typically, you don’t see these defamation suits coming from strong brands, which I believe Tesla to be. It’s not a good look. However, in these cases, Tesla seems to only be counterattacking people who have already used the courts against the company.
I don’t have enough information on each specific case to comment much more than that, but it’s certainly an interesting development that Tesla is seeing a need to sue for defamation in China.