SHANGHAI, Jan 7 (Reuters) – Hundreds of Tesla (TSLA.O) owners gathered at the automaker’s showrooms and distribution centers in China over the weekend, demanding rebates and credit after sudden price cuts they say mean they overpaid for electric cars they bought earlier.
On Saturday, about 200 recent Tesla Model Y and Model 3 buyers gathered at a Tesla delivery center in Shanghai to protest the US automaker’s decision to cut prices for the second time in three months on Friday.
Many said they believed the prices Tesla charged for its cars late last year would not be cut as sharply or as deeply as the automaker just announced in a move to boost sales and help production in its factory in Shanghai. The scheduled expiration of the government subsidy at the end of 2022 has also prompted many to finalize their purchases.
Videos posted on social media showed crowds at Tesla stores and delivery centers in other Chinese cities from Chengdu to Shenzhen, suggesting a wider reaction from consumers.
After Friday’s surprise discounts, prices of Tesla’s electric cars in China are now between 13% and 24% below their September levels.
Analysts said Tesla’s move is likely to boost its sales, which slumped in December, and force other electric car makers to also cut prices at a time of faltering demand in the world’s biggest battery car market.
While established automakers often make concessions to manage inventory and keep factories running when demand slackens, Tesla operates without dealerships and transparent pricing is part of the brand’s image.
“This may be normal business practice, but this is not the way a responsible enterprise should behave,” said one Tesla owner protesting at the company’s delivery center in the Shanghai suburb of Minhang on Saturday, who gave the surname Your name is Jan.
He and other Tesla owners who said they took delivery in the final months of 2022 said they were disappointed by Friday’s steep price cuts and Tesla’s lack of explanation to recent buyers.
Zhang said police facilitated a meeting between Tesla officials and the assembled owners, at which the owners presented a list of demands, including an apology and compensation or other credits. He added that Tesla staff had agreed to respond by Tuesday.
About a dozen police officers could be seen at the Shanghai protest, and most of the videos of the other demonstrations also showed a heavy police presence at Tesla sites.
Protests are not uncommon in China, where people have come out in large numbers over the years over issues such as financial or real estate fraud, but authorities are on high alert after widespread protests in Chinese cities and leading universities in late November against COVID-19 restrictions .
“GET YOUR MONEY BACK”
Other videos of what appear to be protesting Tesla owners were also posted on Chinese social media platforms on Saturday.
One video, which Reuters confirmed was taken at a Tesla store in the southwestern city of Chengdu, showed a crowd chanting “Refund, refund our cars.”
Another, which appears to have been filmed in Beijing, shows police cars arriving to disperse crowds outside a Tesla store.
Reuters was unable to verify the content of either video.
Tesla does not plan to compensate buyers who took delivery before the latest price cut, a Tesla China spokesman told Reuters on Saturday.
He did not respond when asked to comment on the protests.
China accounted for about a third of Tesla’s global sales in 2021, and its Shanghai factory, which employs about 20,000 workers, is its most productive and profitable factory.
Analysts are positive about the potential for Tesla’s price cuts to boost sales growth as it is a year away from announcing its next new vehicle, the Cybertruck.
“Nowhere else in the world does Tesla face the kind of competition they have here [in China]said Bill Russo, head of consultancy Automobility Ltd in Shanghai.
“They’re in a much bigger EV market with companies that can price more aggressively than they have so far.”
In 2021, Tesla faced a public relations firestorm after an unhappy customer climbed onto a car at the Shanghai Auto Show to protest the company’s handling of complaints about its car’s brakes.
Tesla responded by apologizing to Chinese consumers for not addressing the complaints in time.
Reporting by Brenda Go, Zhang Yang and Casey Hall Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Tomasz Janowski
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