One of two people killed when one of its cars plummeted from the building's third floor, a Chinese electric vehicle maker Nio has caused a backlash after it appeared to blame a bizarre accident at its Shanghai headquarters.
The accident on Wednesday, which left two digital dashboard testers dead, went viral with images showing rescue workers desperately trying to get inside the smashed vehicle as it lay on the ground surrounded by broken glass and debris.
New York-based Nio issued a brief statement late Thursday, saying that it was deeply saddened by the death of the pair -- one employee and another who worked for a Nio supplier -- and had set up a team to help grieving family members.
It added that its preliminary analysis had found that the accident was not caused by an issue with the vehicle. It tweaked its statement slightly to emphasize that a final conclusion had not yet been reached, less than an hour later.
Nio's comments caused a wave of criticism online, as skeptical netizens accused the carmaker of being cold-blooded, while others questioned how it could rule out a vehicle problem so quickly.
It took just half a day for the company to confirm that it has nothing to do with the car. It's hard to believe that this was a professional investigation. One said on China's Twitter-like Weibo that they feel like they want to claim their innocence for the sake of their brand reputation.
It sounds like they are trying to hide something. Nio's statement about the accident raised more questions than answers for many.
Why do people not test cars on the road? One wrote on Weibo.
More than 160 million people have been viewed on Chinese social media after comments about the accident, including under the hashtag Nio's response to the car plunge.
Nio, founded in 2014, goes head-to-head with the U.S.-based Tesla and Japanese rivals for a leading share of the electric-car market.
The company has faced safety questions after some of its vehicles caught fire while they were being charged. In August of last year, an entrepreneur in Fujian Province died when his Nio sport utility vehicle crashed with the driver assistance function on, raising concerns about self-driving vehicles.
A report by the Shanghai Securities News said that the car at the center of Wednesday's deadly accident was a model ET 5, launched late last year to compete with Tesla's popular Model 3. The sedan is expected to be delivered in the third quarter of this year.
One online commenter predicted that the accident will affect sales. Garbage company. Nio's shares went up more than 2% in U.S. trading after news of the accident, and they were also higher in Hong Kong, where it has a secondary listing.
Tu Le, the managing director at Beijing-based consultancy Sino Auto Insights, said that the accident was more about Nio's crisis management than the quality of its technology.
He said that he does not believe that this is going to affect consumer confidence in Nio products, or the EV sector as a whole, since this was more of a tragic accident that happened on their campus rather than on a public road. The tragedy still needs to be managed with empathy, decisiveness and truthfulness, which is what their initial immediate response did not do.