Tesla vs. 'Te Si La': Brand's Chinese launch hits a snag

Tesla has begun offering the Model S in China. However, a trademark dispute is preventing the automaker from using the Tesla name there.
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SHANGHAI (Reuters) -- Tesla Motors has started offering its poplar Model S sedans in China, but the premium electric carmaker has yet to give its brand a Chinese name because of a long-running trademark dispute.

That has caused a buzz online with enthusiasts avidly guessing how Tesla will be named locally and even offering advice.

Tesla recently opened its first flagship store in downtown Beijing and this week launched a Chinese-language Web site to take orders from Chinese car buyers.

What's absent from the Web site, which has similar look and feel to its American counterpart, is Tesla's Chinese language name, a rare omission for global brands entering China.

That's because "Te Si La", the Chinese name best known among Chinese consumers, has been registered by a local businessman who has been refusing to give up the trademark.

Tesla's Beijing salesman Ma Li said Tesla has no Chinese name yet, adding he doesn't know when or whether there will be one. Tesla's spokeswoman in Tokyo, Atsuko Doi, did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

Zhan Baosheng, the businessman who registered "Te Si La" in 2006, has no intention at the moment to sell the Chinese-language trademark despite numerous requests from potential buyers, his agent, Jinda Trademark Co. in Guangdong said Thursday.

On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like social networking site, some suggest that Tesla could use an alternative Chinese-language name, "Te Su Le", which means "happiness in boosting speed".

"Te Su Le can be more readily accepted in China and sounds luckier," a blogger said. "Don't forget to pay me if it is adopted eventually."

Michael Pu, another blogger, disagreed: "This name doesn't sound right. It's too vulgar."

This is not the first time a Chinese businessman has preempted global brands in registering local trademarks in a bid to sell them later for a profit.

For example, in 2012, Apple settled a lawsuit by agreeing to pay $60 million to a Chinese company for the legal rights to use the iPad trademark in China.

Legal experts familiar with trademark disputes in China said it might be difficult for Tesla to resolve the trademark issue unless it buys Zhan out or use another name.

China has rules that protect globally renowned brands, but that might not apply in the case of relatively new companies such as Tesla.

Tesla has other problems in China. In a letter to clients, it said that the price of Model S is not determined yet because China has not decided on its tax policies regarding imported electric cars.

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