[UPDATE Aug. 19] The website depicting a "Tesla" Chinese electric car is back online and redesigned. Under the Chinese-language slogan 'Te Si La, Live For Electricity," the site appears to be offering jobs with the stated goal of producing an electric car under partnership with state-owned Guangzhou Automobile Industry Group Cl Ltd. The site is using the logo of the Palo Alto-based luxury electric sedan maker Tesla Motors Inc., which the company's owner Zhan Baosheng claims he owns the right to.
Original story begins here:
As Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) puts the final touches on its largest showroom, a man who has been the proverbial nail in the tire of the U.S. carmaker’s Chinese rollout abruptly took down a website that had depicted images of his own electric “Tesla” concept car.
On Wednesday, three Web addresses registered to Zhan Baosheng – tesla.com.cn, teslamotors.com.cn and tesla.cn – pointed to a website depicting a “Tesla” electric sports car emblazoned with Tesla’s distinctive “T” logo. But on Thursday the same addresses pointed to a domain’s back-side index, indicating the pages were purged from the server.
The domain’s index showed that August traffic to the site spiked on Wednesday, suggesting Zhan might have taken the site down amid increased scrutiny.
While Zhan does own the trademark for the world “Tesla” and the phonetic Chinese equivalent “Te Si La,” he might not have the rights in China to use Tesla’s logo, and taking down the site could be related to that. Most countries, including China, use "first to file" rules that grant trademark rights to, as the name implies, whomever succeeds in claiming first. However, Zhan's 2009 attempt to file trademark rights to Tesla's "T" logo was not approved by the Chinese patent office. Even if he was granted approval to use the logo, Tesla could challenge his use of its logo in a mainland administrative court.
In November Tesla registered its wholesale company in China, called Tuo Su Le Auto Sales (Beijing) Co. Ltd. This means Tesla is probably not interested in using Zhan’s “Te Si La,” especially since it has no significant translation—when spoken the characters sound like the word “Tesla” but they don’t mean anything.
It is common for companies that register names in written Chinese characters to try to match as closely as possible the phonetic equivalent of the company’s native-tongue pronunciation while at the same time using characters that translate into relevant, affirming words.
"Tuo Su Le” is pronounced similarly to “Tesla” (though not as closely as “Te Si La”) and translates literally as “Expand Speed Happiness,” words any marketing executive would consider positive associations to an $80,000 luxury electric car.
Correction: An edit inserted into the original story said Tesla's electric sedan has two doors. The Model S is a four-door full-sized sedan.