Angry with a series of reports from the 21st Century Business Herald (21CBH), the German carmaker’s chief in China, Nicholas Speeks, has ordered cancellation of advertisements on one of the country’s most influential financial news media.
The move came as Mercedes-Benz China battles a spreading PR crisis, of which 21CBH has carried extensive coverage and is apparently considered by Mr. Speeks one of the makers. Brought in last December from Japan to turn around a losing situation versus Audi and BMW, the new chief has tried radical reforms on multiple fronts. In February, he wrote a letter to Mercedes-Benz dealers across the country, reprimanding them for their inaction and non- professionalism. The letter is widely taken as evidence of Mr. Speeks’ lack of understanding of or respect for local ways of doing business. What’s worse, many think, is his arrogance towards consumers. In the past year, hundreds have continuously filed complaints and staged protests on excessive levels of formaldehyde found in their Mercedes-Benz cars, while the company has so far stuck to a policy of simple denial. On June 25, 21CBH exposed that Mercedes-Benz China leaked car owners’ personal information on its official website, where it curiously listed the CLS for only 7 Yuan. On the same day, through its microblogging account, the newspaper also revealed that Stuttgart has sent someone to Beijing, who is entrusted with the special task of investigating New Trend Integrated Group, the main local PR company working for the luxury car brand. "In this series of events," 21CBH commented, "Benz failed miserably in China. After consumer complaints and chaoses in its pricing and sales systems now comes what looks like a power struggle within the cooperation."
Car owners protesting "Poisonous Benz" cars at the 2013 Shenzhen motor show (the pic is from the 21st Century Business Herald)
The message that Mercedes-Benz has ceased advertising on 21CBH was posted by the newspaper itself on its Weibo page on Tuesday. If true, it would be a major irony and contradiction: Mr. Speeks, who apparently wanted to reject the corrupt, Chinese way of doing business, was enraged by independent–that is, "non-paid"–reports from one of the few Chinese media that had not been totally bought by corporations (through their PR agencies).