Hyundai, GM Dealer Apologize for China Lapse After Death

Hyundai Motor Co. and a dealer of General Motors Co.’s Buicks apologized for postings that touted their child-safety features on Chinese social media while alluding to an outcry over the murder of a two-month-old baby.

Hyundai, South Korea’s largest automaker, said the posting was unauthorized and the company will be more vigilant in monitoring its social media accounts. The independently owned Chinese Buick dealer apologized this week for making “inappropriate” remarks.

The lapses come less than six months after Volkswagen AG’s Audi told a Chinese dealer to remove a banner advocating the murder of Japanese people -- a photograph of which had spread through Chinese social media. That incident occurred at a time when anti-Japan sentiment flared across China amid a territorial dispute between Asia’s two largest economies.

“This is definitely a learning occasion for Buick and other car brands on what could possibly go wrong,” said James Roy, a senior analyst at China Market Research Group in Shanghai. “You do need to have a measure of control over anybody who is the face of your brand on the frontline.”

A suspect turned himself in to Chinese police this week, confessing to stealing a sport-utility vehicle in the northeastern city of Changchun, then strangling the infant on board to death and burying him in the snow, the official Xinhua news service reported yesterday. The tragedy triggered so much outrage across China that “Changchun baby abduction” was among the most searched phrases on Sina Corp.’s Twitter-like Weibo service throughout the week.

Hyundai’s Weibo

According to Xinhua, the father had parked his Toyota RAV4 -- motor running with the baby in the back seat -- in front of his supermarket to briefly turn on the heat. When he came back out, the vehicle was missing and the father reported the incident to local police March 4, according to Xinhua.

A posting on Hyundai’s Weibo account on March 6 made references to a missing child and vehicle as it promoted the safety features of the new imported Santa Fe SUV, causing a backlash from dozens of micro-bloggers on Weibo criticizing Hyundai. The posting was made by a non-Hyundai employee expressing a personal opinion and the company deleted it as soon as it was detected, Hyundai said.

“We pledge to be more vigilant in managing our social networking service accounts, while we send our deepest condolences to the victim’s family,” Hyundai said in an e-mail. “Hyundai Motor is a responsible corporate citizen that is not in the practice of taking advantage of tragic incidents.”

On March 5, Liaoning Tianhe Buick wrote: “A few thoughts following the Changchun stolen car and child incident: When buying a car it’s completely okay to choose brands with better technology. Tianhe Buicks carry the OnStar GPS system, which can track down the location of a stolen vehicle at any time and automatically report it to the police. Feel at ease, have peace of mind, if you’re going to buy a car, why not choose a completely safe Buick!!!.”

Dayna Hart, a Shanghai-based spokeswoman for GM, which owns the Buick brand, said the U.S. automaker is monitoring the situation and isn’t ready yet to comment.