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China singles out Apple, Volkswagen for consumer criticism

People walk past the Apple logo near an Apple Store at a shopping area in central Beijing February 19, 2013.


Technology giant Apple Inc. and car maker Volkswagen AG were singled out by state-run China Central Television (CCTV) in its annual corporate malpractice expose.

On its "3.15" investigative special aired late on Friday, CCTV said that Chinese customers did not receive the same post-sales service from Apple as it gave to users in other markets. The report also said that the direct shift gearbox transmission, a long-standing issue for Volkswagen, was causing cars to speed up or slow down during driving.

Volkswagen, which plans to almost double production capacity in China to 4 million cars in the next five years, promised action in response to the "3:15" show, whose name refers to the date of World Consumer Rights Day.

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"We take this report very seriously and we will quickly make contact with our consumers to resolve the issue," it said on its official Chinese Weibo microblog.

Apple officials in China and Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, were not immediately available for comment.

The television show has named and shamed a number of prominent Western companies in the past, hitting the sales and stocks of its targets in a retail market that is forecast to be the world's largest in three years.

Last year "3:15", one of the most widely watched in China, singled out fast food giant McDonald's Corp. and French hypermarket chain Carrefour SA for food safety violations.

The companies were forced to apologise and their shares slumped as China's army of half a billion microbloggers unleashed their anger online.

U.S. retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Korea's Kunho Tire Co. Inc. have also previously been blasted by state TV on Consumer Rights Day.

In December, a separate state television report triggered a food safety scare at Yum Brands Inc. restaurants, cutting its China same-restaurant sales by 20 per cent in January and February.

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Chinese companies have also not been spared. Public concern about food safety, pollution and corporate corruption has intensified over the last few years, after state media exposed malpractice at local firms including web search engine Baidu Inc. and milk producer Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co.

"These TV exposes create the impression that you can't trust that brand," said Torsten Stocker, head of Greater China consumer practice at Monitor Deloitte. "If there's some smoke, then maybe there's much bigger fire."

In a bid to pre-empt any negative publicity on Consumer Rights Day, some companies launched customer-friendly promotions ahead of the TV show. McDonald's will give out free breakfasts on Monday and Wal-mart launched an "adopt-a-tree" campaign.

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