The Free Speech Billionaire™ Sues Tesla Critics in China

The Free Speech Billionaire™ Sues Tesla Critics in China
Tesla has recalled a total of 127,785 units of Model 3 cars in China. (Photo: David Zalubowski, AP)

Tesla is reportedly suing a telecom CEO for weighing in on the electric car company’s ongoing feud with one of its customers.

Tesla’s suit against Xiang Ligang, CEO of CCTime, will be heard at the Beijing Internet Court on May 24, according to company database platform Tianyancha and the Global Times, a state-run media outlet.

As Tesla CEO Elon Musk waves the flag of free speech after his offer to purchase Twitter for $US44 ($61) billion was approved, his other company does not seem to be the biggest fan of critique. Tesla has recently filed defamation claims against two of its customers in China, as well as a Chinese influencer, for raising concerns over its vehicles’ quality and safety.

The company has come under fire in China, with customers claiming that faulty brakes have caused a number of accidents. On April 19, 2021, a woman named Zhang Yazhou protested Tesla’s alleged safety issues at the Auto Shanghai 2021 trade show, climbing on top of one of the cars with a shirt that read, “brakes don’t work,” and the Tesla logo in red. Zhang claims that Tesla’s Model 3 faulty brakes caused her father to crash earlier in February. In response, Tesla dismissed the woman’s claims, stating on Chinese social media platform Weibo that the company would not compromise with “unreasonable demands.”

Xiang, the subject of Tesla’s most recent lawsuit, reportedly came to Zhang’s defence. He told the Global Times that he had “expressed his anger and dissatisfaction over Tesla’s arrogance following the company’s accusation that a conspiracy was behind the protest at the exhibition and lack of proper manner when communicating with the customer.”

This isn’t the first time criticism of the car manufacturer was not well received. Musk himself has lashed out at a number of journalists, even accusing an Associated Press reporter of being a “lobbyist” following an article on Tesla’s recall of its sedans. Musk has also dissolved Tesla’s public relations department, which is responsible for communicating with the press and issuing statements on behalf of the company. Hence, Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Instead, Musk continues to share updates about Tesla mainly through his Twitter account with 92 million followers.

China makes up more than 20% of Tesla’s total revenue, with the company’s sales in China growing to nearly half the size of its U.S. sales in 2021. But production at Tesla’s gigafactory in Shanghai has recently come to a halt under China’s Covid-19 lockdown following a recent outbreak, which may affect the company’s earnings in the second quarter.