China is Porsche’s largest market by far, with sales of more than 95,000 vehicles last year. So, when local buyers claim that they are being treated unfairly in comparison to customers in other countries, the German carmaker has to take it seriously or risk tremendous damage to the brand’s reputation.
The current furore is about the power-adjustable steering columns in Porsche’s luxury SUVs – the Cayenne and Macan series being the most popular.
The argument all sounds rather technical. The row over the steering columns isn’t safety-related either, relating more to how they allow the driver to adjust the height and protrusion of the steering wheel by pressing a small electronic switch.
The same effect can be achieved if the car has a manually-adjustable steering column, but it’s easier with power-assisted control.
Fans say the feature is particularly useful in cars that are shared between drivers where each might have a different ergonomic preference.
So, what is the problem in China? Well, like most Porsche buyers around the world, customers there put a lot of thought into the features they want in their cars – including the option of a power-adjustable steering column over a manually-dictated one.
The issue as far as Porsche customers in China are concerned is that the cars in their market have arrived without power-assisted adjustment due to shortages of semi-conductors in the supply chain. Initially, Porsche said it would retrofit the cars as soon as the chips for power adjustable columns became available.
But in March it scrapped the scheme because semiconductor supply wasn’t improving and the backlog of cars needing retrofitting was growing with every passing day.
For Chinese drivers that was enough to trigger accusations of discrimination and complaints that it was only customers from China that were being treated this way. In reality the situation is similar in other mar- kets around the world, including the US, with car owners taking to Porsche enthusiast websites such as Rennlist to vent their similar frustration.
One Chinese critic posted an image of an official memo sent to his local Porsche dealership in March this year explaining that the company was no longer in a position to offer the retrofits. Other Chinese customers said they had been of- fered rebates ranging from $180 to $500 to cover the change in policy.
Yet – dangerously for Porsche – the narrative in China is that the shoddy treatment is being targeted at mainland customers, who have every right to feel affronted.
“Why are Chinese consumers always treated differently from foreign ones?” one car enthusiast fumed on Sina Weibo. “Porsche embodies arrogance, disrespect for customers and disrespect for contracts. The car owners should sue,” urged another. Porsche responded by issuing an apology, saying that it fully understood “the disappointment of affected customers”.
It went on to explain that it scrapped the retrofit plan because the semiconductor shortage is on- going and it couldn’t guarantee completion within certain time frames. That placed customers in state of “constant uncertainty and with an indefinite wait”, it added.
Yet it also held out the possibility that it might yet reinstate the option of retrofitting the vehicles.
“We have quickly established a special working group, led by Porsche Headquarters and Porsche China, together with relevant suppliers, to jointly study all possibilities, and hope to find a solution as soon as possible,” it promised.
Sympathy for the Porsche owners wasn’t universal, however.
Some netizens even took the opportunity to mock drivers who spend such large amounts on high-end cars.
“Obviously, Porsche is terrible! But what exactly are power-ad- justable steering columns,” asked one, sporting a winky-face emoji.
“So it turns out the rich can cry too?” joked another.
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