Tesla has sued a Chinese car influencer with 14 million followers for defamation, the company’s Chinese office confirmed to several media outlets on Wednesday. It’s the latest example of Tesla striking back at popular allegations in China about its safety issues, particularly around brake malfunctions.
The influencer Xiaogang Xuezhang (小刚学长) creates videos about testing and customizing cars on Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese version. In April 2021, he posted two videos comparing the automatic emergency braking systems of Tesla’s Model 3 and the XPeng P7 — a domestic EV model — in which he shows the Model 3’s emergency braking system failing to activate two times, resulting in hitting both a cardboard car and an inflatable mannequin.
The videos received half a million likes combined before one of the two was deleted. But their authenticity was also questioned by other influencers and Tesla owners, who pointed out signs that suggest he might have hit the gas while testing, which would obstruct Tesla’s braking system. Others speculate that the videos were sponsored by Tesla competitors.
While controversies about Tesla’s safety issues exist both in the United States and China, the company’s Chinese subsidiary has been much more litigious against customers and influencers who have spoken out. In 2021, Tesla China sued at least two owners who publicly demanded compensation for alleged safety issues. In May, it also registered a social media account for Tesla’s legal department in China, which proceeded to send cease-and-desist letters to influencers, Chinese media reported.
On Thursday, the sued influencer Xiaogang Xuezhang responded in a Douyin video, claiming that he only learned about the lawsuit through media and hadn’t received any attorney's letter from Tesla. He also accused Tesla of releasing his personal information and paying for social media campaigns that magnify the lawsuit. “On the surface, it looks like Tesla is suing me; deep down, it’s making an example of me,” he said in the video, doubling down on the authenticity of his videos. “No one would dare stand up against Tesla and point out its problems in the future.”