China's Copycat Cars Cornered

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 8/29/2007 12:42:00 PM
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it appears BMW and DaimlerChrysler aren't too happy with Shuanghuan's knockoffs of their wares as both these German firms are considering mounting legal challenges against the Chinese concern. BMW says that the Shuanghuan CEO (great product name, BTW) resembles the X5 too closely, while the Benz boys say that the Shaunghuan Noble (lame name---there already is a British sports car called the Noble) resembles the Smart ForTwo too closely. What can I say? Guilty as charged. I myself have been up close and personal with a Honda CR-V clone and, from the outside at least, there was very little to differentiate the knockoff from the real thing.

In time, though, I definitely see Chinese automakers coming out with more, er, distinctive models to appeal to the home market. As China already is the third largest maker of automobiles in the world, the twin pressures of legal challenges and the marketplace will probably ensure that these sorts of automotive fakeries become less common (or one would hope). From the FT:

DaimlerChrysler and BMW are threatening legal action over Chinese-made vehicles that they claim are copies of their own models.

German chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in on the issue on Tuesday, describing plagiarism and copyright infringement in China as “a big problem” in a speech in Beijing.

DaimlerChrysler said it would consider unspecified legal action if Chinese carmaker Shuanghuan Automobile showed the Noble, which it says closely resembles its Smart Fortwo minicar, at next month’s Frankfurt motor show.

“We take intellectual property protection very seriously,” a DaimlerChrysler spokesman said. “We decided to reserve the right to pursue legal action.”

BMW said it was considering legal action against the importer of another Shuanghuan vehicle – the CEO – which it claims closely resembles a previous version of its X5 sports utility vehicle which was discontinued in 2006.

Shuanghuan and China Automobile Deutschland, the importer, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

“If suddenly a car turns up that looks like a Smart but isn’t one, but rather a copy produced by not entirely legal means, then that’s not good,” Ms Merkel said.

DaimlerChrysler, which following its sale of Chrysler is due to change its name to Daimler in October, has not elaborated on its legal plans, but the company is understood to have contacted Shuanghuan about the issue.

The German company last year succeeded in stopping another Chinese producer, CMEC from bringing to market another vehicle that closely resembled the Smart.

Global carmakers, including Germany’s, are seeking to entrench their positions in China – now the world’s second-largest vehicle market after the US – while seeking to protect and enforce their property rights.