Much ado about free ice cream? BMW says sorry after fiasco at Shanghai Auto Show

  • A video reportedly showed staff at BMW MINI booth handing free ice cream to a foreigner after refusing it to a Chinese visitor.
Screengrab from the video shot at BMW MINI pavilion at Shanghai Auto Show where Chinese nationals were refused free ice cream distributed by the carmaker, but entertained a foreigner moments later.
Screengrab from the video shot at BMW MINI pavilion at Shanghai Auto Show where Chinese nationals were refused free ice cream distributed by the carmaker, but entertained a foreigner moments later.

Chinese internet users slated German automaker BMW on Thursday, accusing it of discrimination at the Shanghai auto show amid claims workers at its Mini booth favoured foreign over domestic visitors during an ice cream giveaway promotion. The topic "BMW Mini" became the second most-searched topic on China's Weibo social media platform, with over 93 million views with users reposting pictures and videos, along with negative comments, of an incident that local media said took place on Wednesday.

The controversy comes as BMW and fellow German automakers have turned up at the Shanghai auto show in full force in a bid to fight to stay on top of consumer trends in the country where Chinese rivals have been aggressively taking market share.

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One video showed two workers telling some local visitors to the stand that the free ice cream had run out, but then later offering a tub to a Western attendee.

"This has taken away my good feelings towards BMW," said one Weibo commentator.

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

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

BMW did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

The Beijing Youth Daily cited the company as saying the incident was a misunderstanding due to poor management of their staff and that they were tackling the issue.

On Thursday, there was no ice cream giveaway at the booth and on-site staff directed questions on the social media furore to the company.

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

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

Such criticism has at times snowballed into consumer boycotts. In 2019, Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana saw China sales slow after it faced a backlash for an advertising campaign that was decried as racist by celebrities and on social media.

First Published Date: 21 Apr 2023, 09:30 AM IST
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