Shanghai auto show visitors scream over ice cream

Jessica Thompson

Chinese Internet users berated BMW last week, accusing it of discrimination at the Shanghai auto show amid claims workers at its Mini booth favored foreign over domestic visitors during an ice cream giveaway promotion.

Mini apologized for the incident, saying on social media that it was caused by poor internal management and that it would improve training.

The controversy occurred as BMW and fellow German automakers participating in the Shanghai show fight to stay on top of consumer trends in a country where domestic rivals have been aggressively taking market share.

One video showed two Chinese workers telling some local visitors to the Mini stand that the free ice cream had run out, only to offer a tub moments later to a Western attendee.

“This has taken away my good feelings towards BMW,” said one commenter on China’s Weibo social media platform.

A person familiar with the matter said the booth had given out 300 servings of ice cream meant for visitors when the incident occurred and the foreigner in the video was a BMW employee.

The employees were temporary workers hired locally for the show, not BMW staff, the person said, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

In presentations earlier this week, BMW CEO Oliver Zipse talked up the importance of the Chinese market, saying many of its cars’ features were inspired by China and that the country was ahead of the global curve in auto trends.

Chinese consumers have in recent years more closely monitored the behavior of big brands, becoming increasingly critical of foreign companies or local businesses over perceived slights or for not respecting China’s territorial claims.

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