Ferrari has had a rough ride in China lately.
In April, a the mysterious crash of a Ferrari in Beijing that killed its driver and injured two female passengers led to massive rumormongering after authorities censored all social media mentions about the brand (法拉利).
Then, just when Ferrari probably thought it had moved on to a better place, the brand is now taking flack for an incident in Nanjing that resulted in the desecration of the city's ancient wall.
To commemorate its 20th anniversary in China, Ferrari has put together something only the nouveau riche Chinese luxury auto consumers could love, a limited edition (only 20 will be made) year of the dragon 458 model. The gaudy details of the "Marco Polo red" machine:
"The most eye-catching element of the car's exterior is the golden dragon on the front bonnet, which is offset by gold and black livery stripes symbolising a racing track. The image of the soaring dragon and the prancing horse on the front bonnet complement each other perfectly, and are the finishing touch to the car's overall design. The symbols reflect both Chinese culture as well as Ferrari's constant innovation.
This unique design is enhanced by gold finish to the rims and the aeroelastic winglets. The interior also reflects the unique longma spirit and the celebration of Chinese culture with gold embroidery on the car's head rests, while the engine start button on each of the 20 cars is inscribed with the simplified Chinese characters for 'start', and a '20th Anniversary Special Edition' plaque is set into the dash."
If the Chinese have a saying about there being no accounting for class, it's a mystery. But the merits of Ferrari's commemorative China car is the least of the brand's problems now.
During a 20th anniversary promotional event in Nanjing the evening of May 6th, one of the cars was filmed burning out doing donuts. The problem is that the stunt driving happened atop the city's ancient city wall, a landmark structure. A local news report of the event posted on Weibo (China's Twitter) and video-sharing websites shows workers attempting to scrub away the wall's burned-in rubber tire marks. The damage was reputedly a result of "drifting" (漂移).
The headline of the Dongfang News scolded the brand for doing damage to the wall.
After the damage brought the event to the attention of everyone, Ferrari's permit for the event was yanked, with officials being berated on Weibo for ever allowing such an event to occur on such a heritage site.
By the afternoon of May 8, Ferrari media relations has released an official apology. It was posted to Weibo.
China is now an incredibly important market for the automaker. It sold 777 cars in China last year (555 on the mainland), making the nation Ferrari's second largest market. But if it wants to maintain the positive brand image it's built up in the last 20 years, it might want to stop desecrating national monuments with sports cars, no matter how "Chinese" they are.