The popular Chinese microblogging site Weibo is buzzing about insulting remarks made by a senior executive of the German luxury carmaker and Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler on Monday, after both local and official Chinese media including Xinhua and People’s Daily reported it.
On Sunday, a Chinese media report said Rainer Gartner, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks and Buses (China) Ltd.—a subsidiary of Daimler AG headquartered in Beijing, was in a row with a Chinese driver over parking, while he yelled to the driver, “I am in China one year already. The first thing I learned here is that all you Chinese are bastards!” It also said he used pepper spray on someone who tried to intervene. It soon went viral on China’s internet and major social media platforms.
On Weibo, the topic hashtagged as “Mercedes-Benz Executive Insulted China,” made the list of daily hot topics, and was pinned by Weibo to the front page, where Weibo users could see it on top when they refreshed their pages. Reuters reported that the topic made the top 10 discussed topics on Monday morning, Beijing time. Currently, the number of views exceeds 13 million, with more than 8,500 comments posted under the topic.
Daimler AG said that it had “relieved the manager of his position,” according to an emailed statement released on Monday. It also apologized for the adverse social impact it caused to the public, saying that “such an incident reflects in no way the values of Daimler AG and we sincerely apologize for the concerns raised by this matter and the views that people have felt obliged to express following the reports of this regrettable matter.”
However, Chinese social media users are far from satisfied with the result. They flooded the official Weibo account of Mercedes-Benz, which is Daimler’s most well-known car brand in China. Weibo users posted their views on the issue, which were mostly emotional and critical. The most-liked comment was “ALL YOU GERMAN(S) ARE BASTARD(S)!!!” Another user named “Real High Official Zhou” commented, “How serious could it be if you post this kind of racist word in Germany?” Some of the comments compared Gartner to Nazis, and many users said they would avoid buying Daimler cars in the future.
This isn’t the first time an executive of a foreign luxury brand has gotten into trouble for inappropriate comments or content about China. Zadig & Voltaire, a luxury French fashion retailer, also sparked outrage on Weibo in 2012 when its founder declared to Women’s Wear Daily that the company’s hotel would not be open to tourists visiting from China. He later apologized and had the quote changed to “busloads of tourists.”
It is yet to be seen if Daimler’s quick response will be enough damage control, as China’s internet users don’t easily forget offensive incidents. Last year, Chinese online users attacked another German luxury brand Philipp Plein for its anti-China t-shirts, which were made back in 2007. The brand had offered a bizarre explanation in 2007 that an expletive printed on the shirt was actually an abbreviation for “fascinating & urban collection: kiss you China.” Chinese netizens weren’t buying it, and demanded an apology when the brand opened its first Weibo account in August 2015. Philipp Plein did not offer an apology, but eventually closed its comments section, and faced boycotts of the brand as a result.