Man the Barricades! Fiat Fights Back Against China’s Great Wall
By Andy Bannister
This time the Great Wall company’s GWPeri minicar was banned from sale across Europe after it was ruled to be too similar to Fiat’s Panda at a hearing in Turin.
The court agreed that, despite a different front end, the oddly-named GWPeri is effectively a Panda clone.
The Fiat Panda, launched in 2004 and produced in Poland, is by far the best selling European minicar, with more than 250,000 units sold across the continent in 2007.
The legal ruling is particularly significant as Great Wall is one of the pioneering Chinese companies already active in the European market, although its sales are still relatively tiny. Its Hover SUV and related pick-ups have been on sale in Italy for some time.
The court decision should mean the GWPeri will not be allowed to be sold anywhere within the countries of the European Union. Great Wall was ordered to pay a fine of 15,000 Euros ($23,800) for the single GWPeri so far imported into Europe, and will have to pay a punitive 50,000 Euros ($79,000) per car for any further violations.
Lawyers for Great Wall have said the company will appeal against the Turin court decision. Meanwhile, a further court case brought by Fiat in China itself is still pending, and it would seem unlikely the Italians will manage to get the car killed off altogether. The GWPeri is already on sale in its home market, while Fiat doesn’t offer the Panda in the People’s Republic.
The ruling went Fiat’s way despite the cars not looking as similar as was the case in the previous BMW X5 ruling. It is in the centre section and the body’s proportions where the Panda and GW Peri are so alike.
As well as its different (vaguely Renault- inspired) front end, Great Wall – presumably to avoid the very plagiarism accusations it has been saddled with – has given its minicar rear lights and rear side windows which also differ from the Panda. Unfortunately for the credibility of the Chinese automaker, they appear to have been cloned from yet another popular car sold on the European market, the British-built Nissan Note small MPV (above).
It’s easy to understand Fiat’s determination to do everything possible to deter Chinese manufacturers from setting up shop on its territory. Fiat is the acknowledged European small car master, and stands to lose out in a major way if boat loads of cheap Chinese cars begin to arrive on the continent.
For years, Fiat hid behind an import agreement which protected it from the initial onslaught of Far Eastern competition, from Japan in the 1970 and 1980s. More recently it has already seen the Panda’s dominance challenged by the likes of a series of highly successful small Korean-made minicars, the Kia Picanto, Chevrolet Matiz and the recently-launched Hyundai i10.
Whether the Europeans like it or not, though, China’s car makers are coming. As well as Great Wall, the Brilliance company, after a false start, is now returning to big markets like Germany with its cut-price BS4 and BS6 saloons. And these two companies are undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg.
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