Despite being the largest manufacturing economy in the world, China also has something of a reputation for creating bootleg or copycat versions of popular merchandise.
Some of this reputation may stem from China’s somewhat lax legal attitude towards copyright, leading to the creation of such imitation products. This extends to the Chinese motoring industry – producing “cheaper versions” of existing designs, so to speak. So here at ALA GAP Insurance we have compiled some of the most notorious Chinese copy cars that have seen the light of day across the last few years.
Geely GE (Rolls-Royce Phantom)
Almost immediately criticised for having more than a passing resemblance to the Roll-Royce Phantom, the Geely GE was launched at the Shanghai Motor Show in 2009. With its cabin shape, down-sloping rear deck and even an altered version of Rolls-Royce’s famous ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ Flying Lady figure, it’s understandable why Rolls-Royce’s lawyers began taking a close interest in the car. When considering the Geely GE’s £30,000 price tag as opposed to the £250,000 asked for the real Phantom, Rolls-Royce’s leaning towards legal action was even more justifiable. In 2010, Geely restyled the GE to give it a more rounded appearance and rebadged it under their luxury brand, Emgrand. According to a Geely spokesman, the new version of the GE “no longer [borrowed] any inspiration from other manufacturers”. Despite this, the copied ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ figure still remained on the grille of the new version.
Lifan 320/330 (MINI Cooper)
Nearly a mirror image of its obvious inspiration, the Lifan 320 debuted at the Beijing Auto Show in 2008. The similarities between this Chinese copy car and the MINI Cooper are impossible to ignore; the 320’s rounded headlamp design, colour scheme(s) and the overall hatchback shape of the car are almost identical to the real thing. The most obvious difference between the two is that the Lifan 320 has four doors as opposed to the classic two doors on a MINI Cooper. Additionally, with the price of a 320 in China being in the range of 36,500 to 54,900 yuan, the cheapest MINI in China would set a buyer back by about 219,000 yuan. From a financial standpoint, it’s easy to see why a buyer would give the 320 a look at the very least. However, the advantages tend to end there. In 2014, a Lifan 320 with no airbags was crash tested by the Latin New Car Assessment Programme (Latin NCAP) and was bestowed with a somewhat disturbing zero out of five stars for safety. The official report deems the cabin structure “unstable” and that the protection offered to the driver’s head and chest was “poor due to contact with the steering wheel”. Probably best to stick with the Mini, then.
Landwind X7 (Range Rover Evoque)
The strangely named Landwind X7 is a Chinese car incredibly difficult to distinguish from its clear spiritual parent: the Range Rover Evoque. So much so, that in June this year Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) filed a lawsuit against Landwind’s majority shareholder Jiangling Motors (JMC) for copyright infringement. However, shortly afterwards the lawsuit was turned on its head when China designated the Chinese patents for both the Evoque and the X7 “invalid”. Again however, when the Landwind X7’s asking price is around £14,000 and the Evoque costing around £35K more, the risk of the X7 taking sales away from the Evoque is a real possibility – something that clearly wasn’t lost on JLR.
Youxia Ranger X (Tesla Model S, amongst others)
The Youxia Ranger X is a unique addition to our list in that it’s something of a copy car taking “inspiration” from at least three different vehicles. First of all, there’s the obvious similarities in appearance to the Tesla Model S, barring the large black area where the grille would normally be. Although the Ranger X is an electric car like the Tesla Model S, like many other Chinese copy cars it’s available for a fraction of the price. As such, those in the market for the Ranger X might miss the sound of a traditional petrol engine while driving it. If so, then it’s a good thing that the second part of the Ranger X’s copycat trifecta is its ability to filter a selection of different engine noises into the cabin at the owner’s preference. Namely, those of the Ferrari 488 GTB, Ferrari LaFerrari or the Jaguar F-Type.
The third of the Ranger X’s “inspirations” is the black area over the grille which is in actuality a holographic display. As well as the options to display the Youxia name and emblem – which is a ‘Y’ that looks shadily like the ‘T’ of Tesla’s emblem – the display can also show driver-inputted text or emojis. But how does this feature incorporate something from another car? By including the option to display the red ‘Pong’-like display from the sentient KITT car from ‘80s TV show, Knight Rider. So the people behind the Ranger X, not content with just copying aspects of existing cars, decided fictional cars needed incorporating into the vehicle as well. Considering that the Chinese word ‘Youxia’ roughly translates as “knight rider”, this perhaps shouldn’t be any surprise.
Does Innovation Still Exist?
Despite the wealth of copied designs available on the Chinese market, there is also a lot of innovation and progress in the field of driverless car technology, with Chinese companies striving to compete with rivals like Google and Tesla.
Many of these Chinese companies presented driverless cars at 2016’s Beijing Auto Show. Chang’an Automobile, for example, presented two of its “Ruicheng” driverless cars at the event, which had previously driven over 1,240 miles from the company’s Beijing headquarters using an abundance of cameras and radar to complete said journey in six days. Chang’an said they were able to research as the cars travelled, considering factors such as lane manoeuvrability, traffic sign recognition, automatic cruising and voice control. Similarly, some Chinese car companies are teaming with Western companies on this front. BMW have joined forces with Baidu (China’s equivalent of Google) to see a modified driverless BMW 3 Series travel 30km through Beijing traffic, accomplishing manoeuvres such as U-turns, lane changes and merging into traffic from ramps. So despite some dubious cars emerging from China in recent years, perhaps the state of the Chinese auto industry is healthier than first thought.
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Geely GE Image By Roger Wo (Flickr: DPP_0777) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Lifan 320 Image By Milhouse35 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Landwind X7 Image By Navigator84 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.