April 24,2009

Geely, Chery and BYD Copycatting at the Shanghai Auto Show

By CSC staff, Shanghai

"If you're going to steal, steal from the best" is a pithy bit of advice that must be running through the minds of representatives of some of the world's elite carmakers here at the Shanghai Auto Show, as some of their own best design ideas greet them under slightly different, and Chinese, logos.

People gathered around a car in the Geely show space, trying to spot the differences between the car displayed there and a Rolls-Royce.

 "They are so similar. With a Roll-Royce's logo, no one on the street could tell the difference," said a car dealer attending the show.

Besides slight differences in the heat dissipation grid, fog lamp, tail lamp, and the door mechanism, Geely's GE is almost an exact copy of a Rolls. Its logo even appropriates Rolls-Royce's winged goddess, with only a slight difference in her gesture.

Another two cars in the show, developed by Chery and BYD, respectively, are also thought to be clones of other brands. Chery's high-end car is very similar to a particular Bentley, while BYD has grabbed the body design of a Toyota.

Geely is ready with a rationalization. Liu Jinliang, a Geely senior manager, says manufacturing top luxury cars has long been a dream of Geely Chairman Li Shufu. "But our high-end cars have not caught people's attention. So, we do what we have to do."

A Chery regional sales manager explained the reason for his company's copycatting. "Our cars are not so well known. When people passing by notice them because their brands are similar to famous ones, our chance comes."

Liu Jinliang said the Geely GE is still a concept car, and its design might not remain the same when it is put into mass production.

Compared with Geely, Chery and BYD are a bit more down to earth. Chery plays more on cars' logos. The logos of its high-end car Riich, business car Rely, and small car Karry are similar to those of Bentley, Infiniti, and Ford, respectively. BYD's new SUV is very similar to Toyota's RAV4. In fact, BYD also imitated Toyota products in its F3, F6, and F0 lines.

No Legal Problem

"There's no legal problem for our cars," said a BYD manager. Having started in the business by imitating Toyota and Honda, BYD is rapidly becoming one of China's major car makers. However, by avoiding absolute imitation in patented design, BYD has yet to be involved in any law suit. With a special team of legal consultants researching car design patents, BYD has carefully avoided patented parts. 

"Very similar. It must be the No. 1 imitation in the world," said a Rolls-Royce official about Geely's GE. And Ulrich Eichhorn, a Bentley director, gently mocked Chery, saying the company regarded the imitation as praise, but the wings on the Chery trade mark were not so-well made.

"Chinese companies believe they can only succeed by imitating others. But now they have achieved so much development and progress. It's no longer wise or necessary to do so," Eichhorn said.

But Bentley has no intention of resorting to a law suit. Zhu Min, Bentley China's brand manager, said many companies globally were already imitating Bentley and it was impossible to charge them one by one.

BYD is good at reverse development, and imitation is seen as a short cut for success. A BYD researcher says BYD's R&D costs are 1/3 lower than normal development, as the company first imitated the exterior design of cars of foreign brands and then installed its own components inside it. This is why BYD cars are much cheaper than the cars they appear to be.

Despite Chery and BYD's fast development, Zhu Shi, a domestic car expert, is very unsatisfied with their mode of development. "They have tainted their names for all to see, and will pay high if they want to enter the global market in the future."

On April 21, Tian Lipu, director of State Intellectual Property Office, criticized IT products that are imitating foreign brands, saying their producers may be violating intellectual property laws. "Imitation can never be innovation."



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