Posted by: Gail Edmondson on August 31, 2007
Chinese automaker Shuanghuan is already selling cars that look uncannily like the BMW X5 SUV and the Mercedes Smart in China. But dare they unveil the two knockoffs at the upcoming Frankfurt Auto show, which starts on September 13 and runs through the 23rd? A Shuanghuan spokesperson says they don’t plan to show the cars in Frankfurt — contrary to reports swirling in Germany. (They were presented at the Shanghai motor show last year). But China Automobile, a German importer, says it will show the cars in Frankfurt. “Anything can happen,” says one Mercedes official.
BMW and Mercedes are threatening legal action against Shuanghuan. But it’s not clear if copying a car is illegal. Does intellectual copyright protect cars? The Japanese have always been good at picking up design cues from market leaders like Mercedes and BMW. And BMW’s own partner in China Brilliance is targeting European sales with its BS6 sedan, which has a strong ressemblance to a BMW 5 Series, inside and out. So where do you draw the line?
It’s probably too early to worry about a flood of Chinese copycat cars. The Brilliance BS6 recently got a terrible safety rating in Germany which put the kabosh on big plans for an expansive dealer network. Brilliance, a much larger automaker than Shuanghuan, is now working to reengineer the car. So safety standards are still the real barrier to Chinese knockoffs in Europe and the US. If Shuanghuan actually does put its two German look-alikes on a pedestal in Frankfurt, it’s more a sign of naivete than audacity.