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Tesla Model 3 Rollout Amid Hong Kong Protests Ignites Backlash

Last Updated March 4, 2021 2:39 PM
Samantha Chang
Last Updated March 4, 2021 2:39 PM

Tesla proudly touted the release of its Model 3 in Hong Kong. However, the tone-deaf timing of the roll-out stirred backlash. Why? Because Hong Kong has been roiled by protests since June 9.

Tesla’s official Twitter account breathlessly announced that the “Model 3 has landed in Hong Kong (who’s excited).” Included was a photo of a shiny red Tesla Model 3.

Twitter fan: ‘I saw at least 2 Teslas every 5 minutes’ in HK

The response on Twitter was overwhelmingly positive.

One guy enthusiastically tweeted his congratulations. He added that he saw “at least two Teslas every 5 minutes” during a recent visit.

One woman agreed. She observed that “there are so many Teslas in HK already.”


Two Elon Musk fans praised the South African billionaire for his “vision and leadership.”


Critic: ‘Curious PR timing’

However, others scolded Tesla for the unfortunate timing of the roll-out.

A nuclear scientist named Hans Kristensen remarked that the release of an affordable electric sedan is normally cause for celebration.

However, Kristensen says Hong Kong residents are probably more concerned right now about “Beijing’s heavy-handed suppression of ongoing protests.”

Another quipped, “Ummm…They may have other priorities.”

Tesla was most popular EV in Hong Kong

The Tesla Model 3 “is the most highly anticipated car of the 21st century,” according to a 2018 story that ran in the South China Morning Post  (Hong Kong’s English-language newspaper).

When Elon Musk first announced the Model 3 in 2016, about 450,000 people placed a $1,000 deposit to reserve one. Why? Because, according to the SCMP, it was considered “the most eagerly awaited car of all time.”

Hong Kong is a major market for electric cars, thanks to a policy aimed at reducing traffic congestion. For a while, Tesla was the most popular EV in Hong Kong. Its popularity was aided by a generous local government tax incentive.

While Tesla sales dwindled somewhat  after the tax break was capped, it still remains hugely popular in HK.

Tesla Model 3 specs Hong Kong
When Elon Musk first announced the Tesla Model 3 in 2016, more than 450,000 people pre-ordered the electric car. | Source: Tesla

Elon Musk is strengthening ties with Red China

Interestingly, Musk did not hype the Model 3 release in Hong Kong. This is unusual because he usually retweets promotional messages posted on Tesla’s official Twitter account.

Presumably, this is because Musk is aware of the backlash he’d ignite if he appeared to shill his cars while ignoring the mass protests in Hong Kong. But there could be another reason.

As CCN.com reported, Musk visited China last week. During his stay, Musk scored a 10% tariff exemption from Chinese auto sales taxes.

Musk is also building a Gigafactory in Shanghai to facilitate China’s plans to use more electric vehicles. The factory is Tesla’s first overseas facility.

Given Musk’s escalating trade ties to mainland China, it’s perhaps no surprise that he wouldn’t publicly rebuke the nation’s communist government. Or maybe Musk is merely being a savvy businessman by steering clear of divisive politics. Unlike some people.