And Finally

Just like the movie

Police open up highway for unstoppable vehicle


Speed star Sandra Bullock

In the 1994 movie Speed Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock battle to save a busload of passengers from a bomb primed to explode if the vehicle goes too slowly.

To make sure the bus doesn’t have to slow down the police clear the roads.

Earlier this month traffic cops in Henan province had to do the same when a man reported that his Mercedes C200L was stuck in cruise control on a highway near Sanmenxia.

Xue Lishan, who races cars as a hobby, says he called the police when realised he no could longer control the vehicle, which was travelling at 120 kilometres per hour.

The police closed entry ramps to the highway and opened toll booths so Xue wouldn’t crash into them.

He eventually brought the car to halt after an hour on the road.

His story is attracting controversy because of inconsistencies in some of the news reports. Some media reported that Xue called the Mercedes-Benz helpline and that the company hacked into his car’s computer to slow it down. Others said that the act of repeatedly opening and closing the driver side door reactivated the car’s safety mechanisms, allowing him to retake control.

Henan police have corroborated the fact that they received distress calls from Xue and that they opened the toll gates to let him pass.

They also released video footage of him speeding between one set of booths.

But Mercedes have said it doesn’t have the ability to access its vehicles remotely and asked Xue to provide his vehicle for examination.

“Product quality and consumer safety have been the foundation of our brand. We will conduct a thorough investigation to eliminate customers’ and public concerns,” it said in statement.

This isn’t the first time the German carmaker has come in for scrutiny in China. In 2014, for instance, its dealerships were probed for uncompetitive practices and it was hit with a Rmb350 million ($55.23 million) fine in Jiangsu.

In the current case, plenty of people are putting the incident down to some form of driver error. Others have accused Xue of making the whole thing up for publicity.

“Why did he get back in the car and carry on driving the next day? If it was true he wouldn’t have gone anywhere near it,” observed one person on Sina Weibo.

Others wanted reassurance that it wasn’t a design fault and when news emerged this week that a self-driving Uber car had killed a pedestrian in Arizona, netizens were soon comparing the two incidents.

“I wonder if we should let computers drive cars,” mused one (the car that caused the pedestrian’s death was a Volvo, which is owned by Zhejiang-based carmaker Geely).

Of course, the Mercedes brand still has strong appeal in the Chinese market. Indeed, in late February it emerged that Li Shufu, the owner of Geely, had built a 9.7% stake in Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. That makes him the company’s largest shareholder (see WiC399).

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.