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Part of an interior view of a Model 3 seen at a Tesla outlet in a shopping mall in Beijing on May 26, 2021. Photo: AFP

Tesla recalls hundreds of imported Model 3 cars in China in another trouble with quality issues

  • US carmaker to recall imported Model 3s produced in 2019 for seat belt, loose bolts issues, China’s market regulator said in a statement
  • Tesla’s sales in China slipped 27 per cent in April from March amid its troubles with consumers, regulator
Tesla is recalling more than 700 imported Model 3 electric vehicles sold in mainland China over quality issues, adding to a series of missteps in the local market that could dent interest in the nation’s top-selling electric cars.

The State Administration for Market Regulations said on Thursday that 311 of the cars manufactured in 2019 from January 12 to November 20 were found to have seat belt issues, posing injury risks to passengers in the event of a collision.

Another 423 cars built by the California-based carmaker between February 2 and November 20 that year are also being recalled due to loose bolts that could cause tyre-related problems while heightening risks of collision, the market regulator added in the statement.

The recall represents embarrassing publicity for its China business after several public spats with consumers, local media and regulators over the quality and safety of its electric vehicles (EVs). That may have contributed to a slide in sales so far this quarter even, as local rivals NIO and Xpeng have not fully capitalised on its misadventures.


Shocking moment Tesla Model S explodes in a Chinese car park

Shocking moment Tesla Model S explodes in a Chinese car park

“The latest recall could deter more mainland consumers from buying its cars because they are battered by worries over quality and safety issues,” said Chen Jinzhu, chief executive of Shanghai Mingliang Auto Service. “It will be a tough year for Tesla to expand its market share in China.”

The affected imported units made it to the mainland market as Tesla’s popularity grew abroad. The rising demand prompted chief executive Elon Musk to splash US$2 billion on its Gigafactory 3 in Lingang near Shanghai to capture local demand. Tesla began delivering its Shanghai-made Model 3s in January 2020, and Model Y SUVs earlier this year.

Tesla delivered 25,845 units of EVs in April, a 27 per cent drop from March, according to the China Passenger Car Association. NIO and Xpeng, its biggest Chinese rivals, reported mixed fortunes in their March to May sales, hampered partly by the global chip shortages.

The sharp drop in Tesla’s China sales followed a run-in with Chinese authorities and customers over the quality and safety of its locally built cars. The carmaker had a war of words with PingWest at the end of 2020 as the Chinese tech news outlet labelled its Shanghai factory a “Giga-sweatshop” and accused it of using substandard components. Tesla threatened to sue it for spreading false information.

Tesla executives were also grilled by senior regulatory officials about the quality of the company’s Model 3s in February amid a wave of unpleasant social media posts from car owners. The manufacturer has rejected claims that the safety or quality of its vehicles had been compromised in any way.

Tesla, now the runaway front-runner in China’s premium electric vehicle segment, also faced a social-media backlash from Chinese customers. It followed an April 19 incident when a woman, in a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “brake malfunction” and a Tesla logo, jumped on a Tesla on display at the Shanghai Auto Show, to blame the firm for her Model 3 crash.

A photo from Chinese social media went viral showing a Tesla owner at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2021 in a white T-shirt marked with Chinese characters reading “brake malfunction” and a Tesla logo. Photo: Handout

Tesla initially stood by its quality but later bowed to regulators and customers’ pressure. It apologised to the woman two days later, before releasing the data log of the car to her.

In October 2020, Tesla made its biggest recall involving two of its bestselling models sold in China. It took back 30,000 Model X SUVs and Model S liftback sedans produced in the US between September 2013 and January 2018 to fix faulty suspensions.

In the JD Power 2020 China New Energy Vehicle Experience Index Study published in September, Tesla was ranked the second-best battery-powered electric vehicle after NIO, an EV start-up believed to have the potential to challenge Tesla.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Tesla recalls 734 imported Model 3s in latest glitch