Caixin
Apr 15, 2019 07:56 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Mercedes-Benz Lands at Heart of Customer Dissatisfaction Debate

Customers view a Mercedes-Benz at a dealership in Shanghai on Feb. 23, 2019. Photo: IC
Customers view a Mercedes-Benz at a dealership in Shanghai on Feb. 23, 2019. Photo: IC

A dispute between a Mercedes-Benz dealership and a local customer over a new car that leaked oil as it was driven off the lot has rekindled an ongoing debate about weak consumer rights protection in China.

As a former planned economy without a consumer culture, China's economic system traditionally offered little incentives to encourage customer service. While that has changed sharply in the current era of market-oriented reforms, many still feel that companies often don’t value consumers enough and place enough importance on consumer rights.

Perceptions that companies sometimes don’t value their customers enough occasionally become hot topics on social media, including the latest case involving Mercedes-Benz.

The dispute came to light on Thursday when a video clip that went viral showed a woman sobbing while sitting atop her newly purchased car. She was expressing her frustrations after the Benz she had just purchased began to leak oil even before being driven off the dealership’s lot.

The woman told the camera she had bought the vehicle for 660,000 yuan ($98,421) and requested a replacement or a refund after discovering the oil leak. But she was repeatedly rejected, even after her family spent 15 days negotiating, according to the clip.

After the woman complained, local authorities in Xi’an, capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi province, launched an investigation into the matter and asked the Lizhixing dealership to offer a refund as soon as possible, according to a statement (link in Chinese) on the agency’s official social media account on Sunday.

Mercedes-Benz issued an apology and said it will come up with a solution to solve the dispute to the satisfaction of all parties, the German automaker said in a statement on Saturday.

The dispute ignited heated discussion among Chinese internet users, with many expressing sympathy for the woman whom they saw as a typical victim in the face of powerful industry groups. On Monday, posts using a hashtag dedicated to the subject on China’s Twitter-like Weibo had garnered more than 300 million views and generated more than 41,000 discussions.

“She is not fighting for her own rights, but for all customers, please offer her support – the auto sales industry should be regulated,” wrote a Weibo user going by the name of duxinjun.

Founded in 2012, Xi’an Lizhixing Automobile Co. was controlled by Mandarin Star Holding Ltd, a subsidiary of LSH Auto (Hong Kong) Ltd, which is one of Mercedes-Benz’s major sales distributors in China. Over the last few years, Xi’an Lizhixing has been involved in 21 lawsuits, most related to consumer rights, according to public records.

The case parallels a similar one in 2013 that saw global tech giant Apple Inc. issue a rare apology after coming under fire in China for poor after-sales service exposed in a local investigative TV show. That incident saw two of the country’s largest state-owned media criticize the company for “arrogance,” partly for providing lower levels of service to Chinese customers than in other parts of the world.

Contact reporter Mo Yelin (yelinmo@caixin.com)

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