Not exactly what Tesla needs during this rough patch.
Tesla hit a bit of a rough patch in China this April. It all started when closed circuit cameras in a Shanghai parking garage caught a Model S exploding into flames for seemingly no reason. And now a very pissed off Chinese ride-hailing company by the name of IUnicorn (aka Shenma Zhuanche) has voiced its anger at Tesla in the most public way possible, by taking out ads shaming the electric car maker on Times Square billboards.
IUnicorn’s business model is based on offering rides in luxurious electric cars, which pretty much limits it to buying Teslas and Jaguar I-Paces while the rest of the auto industry works on competitors of their own. IUnicorn owns about 278 Teslas that it bought between 2016 and 2017, and according to what the billboards said, around 20% of them experienced some sort of issue with their electric drivetrains.
But IUnicorn’s main complaint isn’t just about how unreliable its Tesla fleet has turned out to be, it's about how long Tesla’s Chinese service network took to repair the cars. Apparently, each Tesla sent to service took an average of 45 days to fix, which cost the company 6.5 million yuan ($970,000) in lost revenue. IUnicorn wants the automaker to compensate it for the lost business, but that may be hard to wring out of Tesla considering how much money the automaker lost over this past quarter.
Since negotiations with Tesla were going nowhere, IUnicorn rented out three billboards on the Thomson Reuters building in Times Square to voice its frustration and demand cash. The messages were only up for a half hour, which wasn’t enough time for an IUnicorn employee to get a picture, but it’s gone ahead and rendered the scene on its Weibo page for our viewing pleasure.
Given that the text is in Chinese, IUnicorn’s message was probably lost on many New Yorkers. But those able to read Mandarin could see that the billboards said, "Tesla, fix it or not,” "Tesla, compensate or not,” and "Tesla, admit it or not.” Printed underneath that were IUnicorn’s losses, including the alleged 20% failure rate of its Tesla fleet and the 3.5 million minutes of time the company lost while the vehicles were in service. According to Quartz, the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri inspired IUnicorn’s method of retribution. The logic behind it was summarized in IUnicorn’s Weibo post, which said, "The more you keep a case in the public eye, the better your chances are at getting it solved.” Knowing Elon Musk’s temper, IUnicorn’s method will probably only make Tesla’s cold shoulder freeze over entirely.