Fiat apologizes to China for TV ad

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian car maker Fiat has apologized to China over its new television commercial featuring U.S. actor Richard Gere and a reference to Tibet after Chinese newspapers carried reports about it.

In a statement issued on Friday, Fiat said it did not endorse Gere’s political views. The actor supports Tibet’s autonomy from China.

“Fiat reiterates its neutrality in connection with any political matter, be it on a national or international basis,” it said. “Fiat Group extends its apologies to the Government of the People’s Republic of China and to the Chinese people.”

A spokesman said Fiat decided to issue the statement after reports about the commercial appeared in Chinese newspapers.

The commercial, which began airing in Italy this month, is for the Delta, a new car under Fiat’s Lancia brand. It is featured on

Its shows Gere driving the car from Hollywood to Tibet, whose autonomy from China he supports.

Tibet has become a focal point for protests against China as the country prepares to host the Olympic Games this summer.

Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne spoke in favor of the commercial when it was first shown to reporters at the launch of the car on June 4.

“I obviously like it,” he said.

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Rome could not be reached for comment.

Reporting by Gilles Castonguay; editing by Sue Thomas