Plagiarism: Land Rover's struggles in China

20 July 2016 | by Nick Gibbs

Continuing our series on the impact of plagiarism on car design, here Nick Gibbs explores the difficulties that established brands have in ensuring that credit is given where it's due for designs sold in China. The regulatory framework in the world's largest car market remains challenging in this area, as Land Rover has discovered, but others have succeeded in protecting their designs, encouraging the firm to persist against plagiarism.

Land Rover is persisting in its lawsuit against a Chinese manufacturer for producing what it claims is a direct copy of the Range Rover Evoque despite China’s cancellation of Land Rover’s patent on the vehicle.

The firm argues the design of the Landwind X7 is modelled on the Evoque, called Aurora locally. However the X7 undercuts the Range Rover’s 398,000 yuan ($60,000) entry price by more than two-thirds.

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Range Rover Evoque

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Landwind X7

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Range Rover Evoque

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Landwind X7

Land Rover suffered a set-back in its claim after the Chinese patent re-examination board declared in April that the UK manufacturer’s patent was invalid because it had been published elsewhere before being applied for in China.

Landwind, owned by Jiangling Motors, also had its patent for the X7 cancelled because the design was judged to be too close to that of the Evoque.

Land Rover has said it will continue to contest Landwind’s right to sell the car, despite the patent setback. “That part is over and now we have this new action, which concerns copyright and fair competition. It’s ongoing,” a spokesman told Car Design News.

Copycat design remains a big problem in China, with foreign makers complaining that the authorities are too lenient on local firms.

Not all cases are ruled in favour of Chinese companies, however. Land Rover has been previously successful when in 2011 it won a protracted case against Geely for filing a trade mark on the Land Tiger/Road Tiger (Luhu in Chinese) name back in 1999 despite already being used by the British firm in place of Land Rover (there being no word for Rover in Chinese).

Design infringement lawsuits have proven harder to win. In 2008 Fiat lost a case against Great Wall after accused the maker of directly copying the Panda small car for the design of the Great Wall Peri. Despite a seemingly strong case, Fiat was ordered to pay court costs. An Italian court later forbade Great Wall from selling the Peri in Europe.

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Great Wall Peri

Coachmaker Neoplan was more successful in 2006 when a Beijing court ruled that the Zonda Industrial Group’s A9 bus was a direct copy of the German brand’s Starliner. Zonda was ordered to stop making and selling the bus and ordered to pay 20million yuan ($300,000) compensation to Neoplan.

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Neoplan Starliner

Land Rover had initially struggled to sell the Evoque after localising production there last year. The company said the dip was down to tougher competition in the price range the company was now selling the car in. “You’ve got an expanding middle class and [they’re] extremely savvy in terms of what their expectations are,” head of sales, Andy Goss, said. JLR is back on track this year, with China sales up 19 percent to just over 53,000 in the first six months of this year.