Tesla has filed defamation claims against at least two Chinese individuals who complained about the safety and quality of its vehicles, insisting the rumors have “groundlessly damaged its reputation,” according to Bloomberg.
The company is also leaning on online “influencers,” demanding “steep compensation” from social media personalities who have criticized it. The electric car firm’s legal team have demanded public apologies and retractions of posts on pain of litigation.
A report cited by Bloomberg on Wednesday suggested the legal threats were part of a “wide-ranging effort” to win back a “positive image in China,” an effort the site suggested was doomed, particularly because Western brands are often criticized for wielding their considerable financial heft in an aggressive manner where local customers are involved.
Tesla “already took a hit from those they’ve taken to court,” according to Mark Tanner, a managing director at Shanghai marketing and branding consultancy China Skinny, who suggested that while Tesla “could suffer in the short term,” it likely believes that “setting the record straight will have a net-positive impact.”
According to the report, one of the targets of Tesla’s lawsuits, Model S owner Han Chao, accused the company of committing fraud “by selling him a used car that he later learned had undergone a major repair.” This led him to describe the firm as a “hooligan company” on Chinese social media platform Weibo, a post that apparently went viral enough that Tesla sued for “unverified, ungrounded, and defamatory remarks.” The company wants 5 million yuan ($785,000) for the insult.
Fellow Tesla target Zhang Yazhou reportedly attracted the firm’s attention by jumping on top of a Model 3 sedan at the most recent Shanghai Auto Show. He is also being sued for 5 million yuan.
Attorney Zhang Xiaoling of Haodong Law Firm in Beijing accused the corporation of “using litigation to dampen the confidence of individual consumers in safeguarding their rights and, therefore, to forestall actions from other customers.”
Chinese customers have also complained about faulty brakes, though Tesla has flatly denied those claims.