Netizens in China are debating what went wrong after a video of a Mercedes-Benz that reportedly went out of control at high speed on an expressway in Central China's Henan Province went viral last week.
Some have blamed the horrifying incident on a system malfunction on the part of the German carmaker, while others voiced suspicions that the driver might have exaggerated the incident, which then snowballed on social media.
The short video, which was posted online on Wednesday night, showed a fast-moving white car passing through a toll gate. Media reports, citing the driver identified as Xue, said the car, a Mercedes-Benz C200L, went out of control after he put it in cruise control at a speed of 120 kilometers per hour (km/h).
The car reportedly kept moving at that speed for about an hour before it finally stopped. No one was injured in the incident.
In several media reports, Xue claimed that he was not able to switch off the cruise control and the brakes also failed to respond, even after he tried to get help from a Mercedes-Benz hotline. He then dialed 110 and called traffic police, who cleared the road for him.
Some media reports suggested that staff at Mercedes-Benz customer services might have turned off the cruise control remotely but the company denied having such ability. In an interview with the online news site thepaper.cn on Friday, Xue said that the car started to slow down after he opened a door as instructed by traffic police and the brakes came back into action after the car slowed to about 20 km/h.
On Friday, Beijing Mercedes-Benz Sales Services Co said the company had gotten in touch with the driver and a technical team would look into the incident.
"Product quality and customer safety... have been a foundation of our brand. We will conduct a thorough investigation to eliminate customers' and public concerns," the company said in a statement. It said that Mercedes-Benz cars are equipped with several layers of safety systems that ensure the function of the brakes even under extreme circumstances.
Beijing Mercedes-Benz told the Global Times on Sunday that it had no update to share with the media.
In a post on his Weibo account on Sunday, Xue said that he had met with representatives from Mercedes-Benz headquarters and senior technical experts from Mercedes-Benz had taken a "close look" at the car and further tests are under way.
In the meantime, social media has been abuzz with speculation on the authenticity of the incident and its potential cause, including comments from some well-known online figures.
In a post, Chinese writer and racer Han Han asked whether the driver was telling the whole truth.
"I suspect it was true that the cruise control couldn't be switched off at one point, but the speed of the car remained under control. The driver might have exaggerated some parts of the story," Han wrote, saying that he'd apologize to the driver if test results showed otherwise.
An auto industry insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that the driver's account as reported was not convincing.
"I think the driver is not familiar with the systems and drove blindly. There is no way Mercedes-Benz could turn that off remotely as he suggested. It's not like Mercedes-Benz has nothing else to do but [to develop this technology]," the insider told the Global Times on Sunday.
However, some netizens expressed concerns over safety.
"What if this happened to my car?" one online user commented on an article on thepaper.cn on Sunday.
Wu Shuocheng, a Shanghai-based independent auto industry analyst, said that cruise control isn't a new technology and there have been reports of problems with it on other cars before, but the "probability of all systems failing simultaneously is slim."
Wu said that while the media reports of the incident seem to contain a lot of hype and sensation, there is an upside to all the discussion online.
"I think the only positive thing evolving with the case is that social media and other online platforms have become an effective channel for consumers to protect their rights," Wu said.