Germany Fights Back Against Chinese Copy
By Andy Bannister
Many car enthusiasts will be cheered by the news that a regional court in Munich – BMW’s home city – has ruled that a Chinese 4X4, the Shuanghuan CEO, cannot be legally sold in Germany because it infringes BMW’s design rights.
The car’s German importer, China Automobile Deutschland, which has been battling to get the vehicle on to the market, had denied the charges that the CEO too closely resembles BMW’s premium X5, particularly from the rear.
Stylistically, looking at picture of the CEO, there’s no doubting the logic of BMW’s case, although in price, performance and quality the two vehicles are miles apart.
Even if the Chinese product is very different underneath, how a vehicle looks is critical – which was no doubt the reason Shuanghuan settled on the styling in the first place.
The ruling could signal that global automakers are ready to take a tougher line against alleged plagiarism of their designs by a plethora of recently-established automakers in China.
That country has seen sales expand at an unprecedented rate as consumers hungry for western-influenced products go-car crazy. Imports have soared but they are totally eclipsed by local production, which for cars alone was up almost 22% last year to over 5.2 million units.
Established car companies across the globe are scrambling to keep up and unsure how to cope with the sheer energy of China and its insatiable desire for cars, mostly home-grown but often inspired by foreign designs. Toyota last year decided not to take action against the maker of China Automobile Deutschland’s other product offered on the German market, the UFO. This closely resembles the previous-generation Toyota RAV4.
Other Chinese products which have raised a few eyebrows include the BYD F1, a design which bears a remarkable similarity to Toyota’s Aygo minicar sold in Europe. BYD also makes a larger model closely resembling the Chevrolet Lacetti/Suzuki Reno. A slightly more pastiche approach has been taken by the Lifan 520, a five-door hatchback – series production of which begins in September – which uses many design features of another BMW Group product, the Mini.
Chery’s QQ also was the subject of a legal case claiming it was a copy of the Korean Daewoo Matiz minicar, and while the car remains on sale it cannot be exported to certain markets.
Years ago when Japanese cars were still establishing themselves it was quite common for their designs to ape the appearance of popular European models, but their efforts were at least an interpretation of the original design, not a near-identical lookalike such as some of the Chinese manufacturers produce.
So far China’s automakers have barely scraped the surface as far as export potential to western markets are concerned. This ruling – and other setbacks over poor safety standards – could delay the onset of the flood but there remains little doubt it is still coming.
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