China state TV targets foreign auto firms

SHANGHAI (AFP) - Foreign carmakers in China rushed to make amends on Monday after being targeted by state television in a ritual naming and shaming of firms for alleged misconduct towards consumers.

Jaguar Land Rover, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz were among those targeted Sunday by the annual China Central Television (CCTV) programme for World Consumer Rights Day on March 15.

The two-hour show has in the past criticised foreign companies such as Apple, prompting an apology from chief executive Tim Cook in 2013 over customer service and return policies.

This year it took aim at Jaguar Land Rover, owned by India's Tata Motors, over alleged faulty gearboxes in its Evoque SUVs sold in China.

Jaguar Land Rover said it had from January started to offer a software upgrade to address the issue.

"This has brought consumers inconvenience and difficulties, we express our deep apologies," the company said in a statement on its website.

CCTV also said that some foreign carmakers' service centres overcharged for repairs or recommended unnecessary work. It said these included Germany's Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, a unit of Daimler.

"We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused to our customers," Volkswagen said in a statement to AFP. "We welcome customers to contact us directly should they have any problems with dealer service." Mercedes-Benz pledged to investigate. "We will immediately open a thorough investigation and urge the relevant dealers to carry out rectification," it said on its verified China microblog.

A joint venture of Japan's Nissan in China responded to similar accusations by saying it would strengthen supervision of after-sales service.

Foreign auto manufacturers are already under pressure in China, the world's largest car market, following a sweeping investigation into alleged monopoly pricing for parts and complete vehicles.

Last year China fined 10 Japanese auto parts firms more than US$200 million (S$ 277 million) in total for price-fixing.

But the CCTV programme, which was broadcast live, also singled out some domestic companies, including telecommunications service providers, for failing to prevent calls which could result in fraud.

Industry giant China Mobile said it would investigate the matter, according to a statement posted online.