Wealthy Chinese car consumers have a strange way of filing consumer complaints.
According to Chinese press reports, a wealthy Chinese businessman hired a crew to smash his Maserati Quattroporte with sledgehammers to protest poor customer service. The highly public supercar execution took place at the Qingdao Auto Show.
One of the four men who smashed the car said the owner was protesting "poor sales service" at the Maserati dealership in Qingdao where the car was purchased. A YouTube (GOOG) video of the crew taking sledgehammers to the windows and hood is now becoming viral.
The incident was eerily similar to the smashing of a Lamborghini in 2011 at the same auto show. Which brings up the obvious question: is this a trend, or recurring publicity stunt?
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Maserati, which is owned by Fiat (Milan Stock Exchange: F-IT), called the incident a "publicity stunt" and said it had been working with the customer to resolve his complaints.
"We are aware of a complaint made by a customer against a dealership in Qingdao," Maserati said in a statement. "The matter was being investigated through our usual customer complaint channels and the dealer there was discussing any grievances with the customer in question. It is disappointing to learn that the individual chose to halt those discussions in such an abrupt fashion today. We will work with the authorities to investigate if any offences have been committed by the customer."
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That's all Maserati would say. But, as I reported in 2011, Lamborghini stated that it had solved the owner's problem and that the owner smashed the car "for reasons that are unknown to us and that are independent from his relationships with Lamborghini."
At the time, people familiar with the situation said a competing dealer and importer may have been involved in the incident. In China's rough-and-tumble car market, perhaps car smashing is simply another form of business competition.
What's more, a close look at the Maserati video shows that the sledgehammer crew mainly damaged the glass and hood, which are both relatively easy to repair.
Either way, the video is enough to make any supercar owner cringe.
-BY CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter: @robtfrank
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