Posts tagged ‘automotive industry’


There can be only one, unless you forget to register your design: the Range Rover Evoque and the copycat Landwind X7

21.04.2015


The stunning original: the Range Rover Evoque.

There has been a lot of ongoing press about Landwind’s copy of the Range Rover Evoque (a road test of the Evoque comes next week in Lucire, incidentally), one of my favourite Sloane Ranger SUVs. There’s no way Landwind would have come up with the design independently, and, if put before most occidental courts, there would be a finding in favour of the Indian firm.
   People are right to be upset, even in China, which has plenty of firms these days that spend millions on developing a new car and hiring the right talent. The days of SEAT Ibiza and Daihatsu Charade rip-offs are not completely gone, but if you read the Chinese motoring press, the journalists there are as condemning of copies as their colleagues everywhere else.
   The impression one gets in the west is that this is par for the course in China in 2015, even though it isn’t. While there have been firms that have gone from legitimate licensing to copying (I’m looking at you, Zotye and Yema), the reverse has tended to be the case in the Middle Kingdom.
   The latest article on the Landwind X7 appears in Haymarket’s Autocar, a magazine I’ve taken since 1980. I even think Autocar is being overly cautious by putting copy in quotation marks in its headline. It’s a copy, and that’s that.
   Landwind has maintained that it’s had no complaints from Jaguar Land Rover, while JLR CEO Ralf Speth says he will complain. Considering it’s been five years since the Evoque was launched, and news of the copy, and Landwind’s patent grant from 2014, has been around for a while, then saying you will complain in 2015 seems a little late.
   In fact, it’s very late. What surprises me is that this is something already known in China. I’m not the most literate when it comes to reading my first language, but as I understand it, a firm that shows a product in China at a government-sponsored show, if it wishes to maintain its “novelty” and prevent this sort of piracy from taking place, must register it within six months, under article 24 of China’s patent law:

Within six months before the date of application, an invention for which an application is filed for a patent does not lose its novelty under any of the following circumstances:
(1) It is exhibited for the first time at an international exhibition sponsored or recognized by the Chinese Government;
(2) It is published for the first time at a specified academic or technological conference; and
(3) Its contents are divulged by others without the consent of the applicant.

   The Evoque was shown at Guangzhou at a state-sanctioned motor show in December 2010, which meant that Jaguar Land Rover had until June 2011, at the outside, to file this registration. JLR reportedly missed the deadline [edit: with the patent office receiving the application on November 24, 2011].
   The consequence of missing the period is that an original design becomes an “existing design”. While it’s not entirely the end of the road for Jaguar Land Rover in terms of legal remedies, it is one of the quirks of Chinese intellectual property law, which, sadly, is not as geared to protecting authors as it is in the west.
   The approach one would have in, say, a common law jurisdiction, to prove objective similarity in the cases of copyright (and, as I understand it, a similar approach under patent), does not apply there. (Incidentally, this approach is one reason BMW could not have won against Shuanghuan for its CEO, which is usually mentioned by Top Gear watchers as an X5 copy. Look more closely and the front is far closer to a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado’s, and there’s neither a kidney grille nor a Hofmeister-Knick. It’s a mess, but Shuanghuan could easily argue that it picks up on period SUV trends, like the triangular sixth light found on an Opel Astra is part of a 2000s æsthetic for hatchbacks.)
   If you go back to November 2014, the South China Morning Post reported on this matter, again quoting Dr Speth in Autocar.
   He’s found it ‘disappointing’ for a while, it seems, but back in 2014 there was no mention of going after Landwind. An A. T. Kearney expert backs him up, saying, ‘… copying by Chinese original equipment manufacturers is still possible and accepted in China.’ It’s increasingly unacceptable, but, there are loopholes.
   I’m not arguing that this is right, nor do I condone the X7, but you do wonder why JLR hasn’t taken action. The above may be why JLR has stayed silent on the whole affair.
   This is why I read nothing on any action being taken by JLR when the Landwind was first shown, when a patent was granted (a year ago this month), or when the X7 was last displayed at a Chinese motor show.
   The SCMP piece is a much fairer article, noting that Chinese car makers have become more sophisticated and invested in original designs. It also notes that consumers are divided: while some would love to have the copy, another felt ‘ashamed about Landwind,’ points usually ignored in the occidental media.
   Land Rover has traditionally been swift in taking on copycats, and it had fought Landwind’s EU trade mark registration in 2006. This firm is known to them.
   Landwind, meanwhile, has a connection to previous Land Rover owner Ford, through Jiangling, which has a substantial Ford shareholding. Could some pressure be brought through Ford?
   For now, Jaguar Land Rover’s trouble with its patent registration has yet to make it into the western media. It’s doubtful that state media have ganged up on Jaguar Land Rover, considering it has a partnership with Chery, and invested in a new plant in Changshu. It really needs to be asking its lawyers some serious questions.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, general, India, media, UK | 2 Comments »


The demise of Auto Katalog, and little to fill the void

10.10.2014

It’s sad to read the news that Motor-Presse Stuttgart will not publish the Auto Katalog annual this year. That means last year’s, the 57th, could have been the ultimate edition.
   There are complaints on Amazon.de, and I was all ready to buy a copy myself—typically I would have an order put in through Magnetix in Wellington (and wait the extra months).
   Auto Katalog is part of my childhood, too. While my father had various Grundig books through work, which were my introduction to the German language, it was the 1978–9 number of Auto Katalog that got me absorbing more Deutsch. To this day I have a vocabulary of German motoring jargon that is nearly impossible to get into conversation. And to name-drop, I owe it to Karl Urban’s Dad for my first and second copies—he gave them away to me after a new issue came in the post.
   My Auto Katalog collection has a gap between 1980–1 and 1986–7, which would have marked the first year I saw it on sale in New Zealand. They were pricey—over NZ$20—but for a car enthusiast, well worth it. The sad thing is that they declined in quality in the 1990s, and by the 2010s there were noticeable omissions and errors. (MG, for instance, finally showed up in an appendix last year, though the marque had returned to mass production in China many years before.)
   Nevertheless, as an extra reference for Autocade, they were invaluable, and I always found their structure more suited to research than the French Toutes les voitures du monde from L’Automobile, which I would pick up in France or in French Polynesia. (I’ve now ordered the 2014–15 edition online, as it’s not available locally.)
   There was great support for Auto Katalog, and I can’t imagine Motor-Presse not making money off it, but the announcement in August—which I only read in the wake of noticing that the 2014–15 issue had not gone on sale abroad—indicates that such information is more readily available online.
   Well, it’s not—not really. There may be national sites, and there are a few international ones (Carfolio and Automobile Catalog) but none pack the information quite as nicely into a single, easily referenced volume as Auto Katalog. That’s where we’re happy to pay a few euros. And, like Autocade, there are omissions: if these other sites are like mine, then they have one chief contributor and a few very occasional helpers. All three sites are trying to create a history of cars, too, not just new models, so we can never fully keep up with the current model year while we fill in the blanks of the past.
   A few years ago, a Polish company put together several volumes of what are regarded to be the best international car references this side of the 21st century, but even that did not last long. The research and presentation were meticulous, according to friends who bought it, but the language left something to be desired. It was never available here, to my knowledge, and by the time I found out about them, they had dated.
   We had also discussed doing a printed version of Autocade, but my feeling remains that there are just too many gaps in the publication, although proudly we do have information on some very obscure cars on the market today that even Auto Katalog had missed.
   If Auto Katalog does not return, then it’s likely its spiritual successor will be found in China. Here is the most competitive car market on earth, with the greatest number of models on sale: it would make sense for a future publication to use China as the starting-point, and have other countries’ models filled in. China would also have the publishing and printing resources to compile such an annual, with the chief problem being what the Poles found, despite a multilingual population and even a lot of expats in China, making such a publication less accessible and readable. (That is a challenge to prove me wrong.)

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Posted in cars, China, internet, media, publishing | 1 Comment »


Endgame: Saab files for bankruptcy

19.12.2011

If you’re a car nut, then you won’t be mourning, too much, the passing of former Czech president Vaclev Hável. Or, for that matter, Kim Jong Il. It’s Saab that has finally died as it files for bankruptcy after GM, which still licenses key technologies to the Swedish firm, vetoed its sale to Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile.
   GM has a JV with SAIC, the Shanghai automaker, and believes that if those technologies were to find their way into the hands of a small upstart Chinese rival, it wouldn’t be to its advantage. Saab, which had been teetering on collapse since March, when it first stopped production, decided to call in the receivers today.
   GM had issued a statement at the weekend, saying, ‘Saab’s various new alternative proposals are not meaningfully different from what was originally proposed to General Motors and rejected … Each proposal results either directly or indirectly in the transfer of control and/or ownership of the company in a manner that would be detrimental to GM and it shareholders. As such, GM cannot support any of these proposed alternatives.’
   Swedish Automobile, the parent company of Saab, responded, ‘After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganization of Saab Automobile could not be concluded.
   ‘The Board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company without further funding will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors.’
   GM, in the two decades in which it owned Saab, failed to turn a profit with the brand. However, its parting gift, the new 9-5 saloon, was heralded by some fans as a return to form for the company. Hopes were high for it, and the 9-4X crossover, helping Saab back into a position of strength.
   It’s easy to do a post mortem now, but the failure could be levelled at GM’s misunderstanding of the Saab brand. It may have been sensible to shift Saab models on to Opel platforms for economies of scale, but, in doing so, the cars lost some of their character. The lowest point was when GM created a rebodied Subaru Impreza and called it the Saab 9-2X, which fooled few buyers—one has to remember that Saab buyers tended to be well educated. Saab never fitted well in a business which targeted the mainstream: its own cars were always bought by people who enjoyed their quirkiness and the fact they did not follow convention.
   GM only understood this when it was far too late, as the last two models demonstrated.
   When GM itself had to file for bankruptcy protection in the US in the late 2000s, Saab, Pontiac, and Saturn were the victims.
   When Saab was sold to Spyker, its boss Victor Muller invested heavily into the business to try to turn it around—but he, and other investors, would have lost tremendously today. Saab fans will likely remember Muller favourably—after all, he put his own money into the business and shared his supporters’ passion—but in a world where break-even points are at hundreds of thousands of units, Saab’s 30,000 in 2010 were never going to be enough. MG Rover Ltd. collapsed with 2004 sales of 115,000 in 2005.
   As hindsight is 20-20, Saab and Youngman might be accused of wishful thinking, believing it to be unencumbered by GM’s IP rights. However, the American business held the right of revocation over key licences that make up Saab’s 9-3, 9-4X and 9-5 models.
   It’s not the first time intellectual property has got in the way of car businesses. One of the most famous examples was BMW arranging with Rolls-Royce trade mark owner Vickers plc to license the brand for motor cars, as Volkswagen negotiated to buy the Rolls-Royce Motors business. And all Volkswagen really had to do to find this out was visit the Rolls-Royce website home page at the time: right at the bottom, stated clearly, was the message that the Rolls-Royce brand was licensed from Vickers plc.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, design, marketing, Sweden, USA | 3 Comments »


Two years on, the mainstream media wake up over BYD’s ethics

10.04.2011

I said it in 2009, and apparently, so did a diplomat whose note was leaked via Wikileaks: BYD might not stand scrutiny in a non-Chinese court over its vehicles.
   When I raised it, a few BYD fans (agents?) came commenting, trying to pick holes in my post, though they were unable to deny that the company had been unethical. If someone needs to come and attack without substance, then it’s almost always a guilty conscience that motivates them. If anything, they confirmed every statement I made.
   That time, I highlighted two publicity images that Toyota and BYD had used, even though BYD said the F0 model is exclusively its own work. It’s a little hard to explain these two photographs, then:

Toyota Aygo

BYD F1

   I wrote at the time:

BYD’s general manager, Xia Zhibing, has been quoted as saying, ‘The BYD F1 [as it was originally called] is a model developed by ourselves and we hold the intellectual property right for it.’
   I guess there’s no shame at BYD, and that the ideals of truthfulness in Confucianism haven’t made a return to parts of Red China.
   Come on, Mr Xia, the only contribution BYD has made to the 2007 photo is in Adobe Photoshop! If you are going to lie about it, don’t make it so obvious by using someone else’s publicity pic first! At least use CAD to generate something new!

   The argument still holds when you examine the door shapes of the BYD F3 and G3, and the E120 Toyota Corolla; or the F6 and the XV30 Camry, though at least neither model has been cursed with retouching of Toyota publicity photographs. From the Reuter article:

One Honda source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cited BYD’s F3 model in particular as a known copy with Toyota Corolla and Honda Fit attributes.

   It’s interesting that this has only recently come to light at Reuter, when the story was very obvious to most of us motorheads two years ago.
   Most of us know that copying goes on and China, Red or otherwise, is certainly not the only guilty party. There’s some hidden story about the original Nissan March and the Fiat Uno, for example, but usually, when these things are done, the designers do enough to get around an expert’s judgement, just in case one gets called up in court.
   BYD, however, hasn’t really done enough to cover its tracks. It’s one thing to be inspired, it’s another to leave clues everywhere over the finished product.
   Before 2009, I honestly thought BYD was a Toyota licensee, and while it would be very difficult (as the Reuter article points out) to prove copying or copyright infringement on a component-by-component basis (as so many parts are commodities), it’s actually not as difficult to examine the overall bodyshells and for a plaintiff to find evidence of objective similarity. Things might be a millimetre out here and there, but the argument would be familiar to anyone in the type design industry: Megaron is still Helvetica.
   Arguably, some of the technology is BYD’s (and the Reuter article has something to say about its efficacy), but there’ll need to be some investment in the look of the cars if the company doesn’t want to get an injunction filed against it by some Japanese automakers, as I said in 2009.
   It’s not as though the company is incapable of producing cars inspired by other manufacturers but with enough of the details hidden—some of BYD’s niche models could pass muster in a non-Chinese court.
   The BYD e6, the electric car on which a lot of the company’s hopes hinge, actually looks quite smart.
   However, the mainstream models, the ones in which Warren Buffett has placed so much faith with his BYD investment, don’t.
   There are so many Chinese car manufacturers that deserve to do well, because they’ve played the game properly. While their conduct during the last days of MG Rover in the UK left something to be desired, SAIC is going about its expansion largely the right way. Chery has been commissioning some wonderful work from Italy. Geely and Riich models might look derivative, but there’s no doubt that it’s their own work. I wouldn’t buy a Lifan, but I’d talk them up before I’d talk up BYD.
   BYD’s advantage is in its electric models, if they ever appear. The Reuter article leaves the reader in little doubt that the technology there might not be all that it is cracked up to be, either.
   The irony is I would really love the idea of all-electric cars to succeed and be affordable. If they came from China, I would have no objection, because it would mean that the world’s fastest-growing car-buying nation might be able to arrest its rise in carbon dioxide emissions. Even the Politburo’s subsidy for electric cars is a sensible move.
   But there is so much talent in a country of over a billion that copying, as the Chinese car industry moves into a more mature phase, does it no credit—and that could prove the undoing of BYD unless it sets its sights only on exporting the e6 and not the existing F-cars or the G3.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, media, USA | 3 Comments »


How will Chevrolet go down in Korea?

25.01.2011

Last week, GM announced it would drop the Daewoo marque, as it has done through Europe, in its native Korea, in favour of Chevrolet.
   The company will also be renamed GM Korea, a name it once had nearly four decades ago.
   While most will think this makes sense, so GM can concentrate on unifying its Chevrolet brand globally, I have to play devil’s advocate.
   We know that GM opted to use Buick as its first brand in China in the Communist era because it had generated a lot of goodwill prewar. And it worked: Chinese people, somehow, knew that Buick was a quality brand, even though there were very few cars in China in the 1930s. In the 1990s, 60 years on, Buick sold pretty much everything it made through its joint ventures in China.
   This might be due to Chinese people valuing history and a sense of brand loyalty in an era where foreign brands were still fairly new in the People’s Republic.
   What about Korea? Of course, South Korea is no stranger to brands and consumerism, but where does Chevrolet fit? Is it as well placed as Daewoo, which has seen years of financial disgrace as a car company?
   If we took the Chinese experience, then we might look at the last car GM sold as a Chevy in the Korean market:

Image:Chevrolet_1700_Wagon.jpgChevrolet 1700. 1972–8 (prod. 8,105). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1698 cm³ (4 cyl. CIH). Holden Torana (LJ), made by Saehan of Korea. Essentially a facsimile of the Australian original, but for an unusual station wagon model that looked more like an Opel at the back. Robust, but a failure on the Korean market, thanks to a perception that it was thirsty (the oil crisis did not help; Korean engines were generally smaller at this point). In theory replaced by facelifted Camina in 1976, though it ran alongside it.

   Not exactly a success. The supposed successor, the Camina, sold even fewer, despite having a smaller engine.
   If Koreans had the same conditions as the Chinese, then this one model sold as a Chevrolet in Korea will instil negative brand associations in the Korean market.
   Daewoo hasn’t exactly had the history of Buick. It emerged as a car marque only in the 1980s, taking over from Saehan, so it may well be disposable. It’s also not like Datsun of Japan, which had plenty of years established worldwide. Nor is it like other storied GM brands such as Vauxhall and Holden, which are restricted to one country or one region.
   Koreans have also seen major brands such as Goldstar, or Lucky–Goldstar, become the much simpler LG. Walk around Seoul and you see plenty of KFCs and Pizza Huts.
   But there’s still a part of me that says a nation that has very few expatriates might just prefer their locally made cars to have local brands.
   Koreans have a perception that foreign brands invite the tax authorities to investigate you, which is why so few people buy non-Korean cars there. So how will Korean-made and Korean-developed, but foreign-badged, cars go down there?
   It hasn’t been done with rival brands Hyundai, Kia, Ssangyong or Samsung, the latter two having foreign owners.
   GM will have to be careful how Chevrolet is marketed, to ensure that it’s perceived, at least in Korea, as a Korean brand that just happens to have an American home and a French pronunciation. Because if there’s one thing branding can do, it’s to make people overlook the actual country of origin in favour of the perceived one. This is why Japanese giants such as Suntory sell fruit juices in New Zealand as Just Juice, Fresh-Up or Bay Harvest—brands with histories in New Zealand—and we do not see Bill Murray on our airwaves getting lost in translation in a commercial.
   Sure, Daewoo has been owned by GM for years, so every car buff in Korea knows that the name change means nothing. Some of the range—the Alpheon and the Veritas, for instance—hail from China and Australia. But the everyday person in the street might be a bit more comfortable buying a Daewoo Alpheon than a Chevrolet Alpheon—because no one really wants the revenuers sending a letter saying they’re going to be audited.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, marketing, New Zealand, USA | 3 Comments »