Too Close for Comfort Carmakers Threaten to Sue over Chinese 'Copies'

Carmakers BMW and DaimlerChrysler are considering suing Chinese rivals to stop them presenting new models at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt. The Chinese cars bear a striking resemblance to German designs.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes it just goes too far. That, at least, is the opinion of the German carmakers who are considering suing their Chinese rivals for allegedly copying their designs.

The row was sparked by plans by the importer China Automobile Deutschland to present the Chinese cars CEO, UFO and Nobel -- which strongly resemble the BMW X5, Toyota RAV4 and the Smart Fortwo, respectively -- at next month's International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt. If the cars do appear at the show, then German car giants BMW and DaimlerChrysler may consider suing the Chinese manufacturers, according to a report in the German car industry magazine Automobilwoche.

"We have already launched measures to stop the distribution of the CEO in Europe," a BMW spokesman told the magazine. "If the vehicle is exhibited at the IAA we will examine taking legal measures."

Last autumn, DaimlerChrysler, which manufactures the Smart compact car, successfully sued a different Chinese company that also manufactured a copy of the tiny two-seater.

And BMW secured a legal warning against the distribution of the CEO in Italy. If the distributor goes ahead with the sale, BMW is expected to start formal legal proceedings.

The independent importer China Automobile Deutschland, which plans to distribute all three models, said it was unaware of the possible IAA ban.

"The debate could even prove useful because it puts our products on a level with BMW and Smart," said company manager Karl Schlössl. He wants to sell the car from October onwards through a network of up to 100 dealers.

The main organizer of the Sept. 13-23 IAA show, the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), said it reserves the right to ban the models in question from the show. The association said that if intellectual property rights had been infringed it would be in breach of the exhibition's rules.



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