Chinese Copy BMW and Mercedes

Posted by: Gail Edmondson on August 31, 2007

bmw x5

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.

Reader Comments

Sean

August 31, 2007 4:02 PM

It would be wonderful to see the Chinese pull this off. Intellectual property law has become a sort of fascist exercise of corporate power lately. A real partnership of powerful government and business interests to shape laws and exercise government power to further business interests.

Trademark law would rightfully interfere with the sale of such cars if they were reasonably likely to fool consumers into thinking that the Chinese knock off was a BMW. But if there are placards all over the car that read "SCEO" instead of "BMW" I doubt that the consumer is really going to be fooled.

As for a company being able to protect something like an aesthetic design, I think that's hogwash. The worst thing about modern consumerism is that brands and labels have little to do with quality, they are merely symbols of a price paid and "lifestyle" to which the sad consumer is trying to identify himself with. It's an effort to brand one's self through consumption choices that are advertised as being "attached" in the most delicate and fanciful ways with an ethereal world of models and situations that do not exist, but that everyone shops for to try to recreate them here in reality. No wonder Baudrillard felt that reality was so damaged as to be beyond repair.

mazanboriz

August 31, 2007 4:20 PM

i think china is doing a great job cos the german cars are very expensive and consumes alot of fuel but with chinas new discovery i think the masses can also afford that of china since they are all called cars and they look the same and function the same.bravo to china, i cant wait to have chinas in the market and in my garage.

Michael Safdiah

August 31, 2007 4:21 PM

Is anyone surprised?

Car Fan

September 1, 2007 9:48 PM

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allen

September 2, 2007 12:45 AM

I dont want to hear any car the made in china! chinese love to copycat.... what a shame to share our well built design vehicles made in germany , america,and japan.

Dave

September 14, 2007 5:01 PM

What? Carmakers copying others?? What a shocking concept!! Seriously though, this is not exactly new. Not trying to defend the Chinese carmaker, but if you look at the styling of vehicles around (even the big and prestigious ones) you can find little hints of other cars from other companies.

Just look at the brand new Honda Accord - doesn't the side look like a BMW 3, the back - Audi A6, the front - a Hyundai Sonata? The Kia Amanti looks just like a Mercedes E class mixed with a Jaguar. From a distance, I would mix up the rear end of a Acura RDX with the Audi Q7. And I lost count of how many luxury models from Lexus take after the Mercedes'. All the North American minivans look like inbreds. And when I was in Europe a couple of years ago, all the subcompact cars (Vauxall, Peugeot, Fiat ...) look like one another. One could even argue that the trunk/tail light design of the 2007 Mercedes S class follows certain styling trend that the BMW 7 started a few years ago.

Fact is, lots of engineers, car designers, float from one car company to another, so it's no big surprise that the cars from different makers bear resemblance. So I don't know why BMW is making such a big deal out of this particular case - unless they actually have proof that someone stole some confidential design/engineering details and applied it to the chinese SUV. If they (BMW) were smart, they could turn this around in their Ad campaign and say, "look how many other car companies decide to imitate BMW's ... but none of them IS a BMW" or something like that. Besides, the "imitators" are rarely going after the same market (price-wise) as the BMW anyway - i.e. someone who wants to buy a cheap chinese SUV probably can't afford a BMW X5!!

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