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Copycat cars ooze style on the cheap, but spark outrage
Published on: Tuesday, June 04, 2024
By: Yamin Vong, FMT
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The target of his tantrum was the Geely GE which had a striking resemblance to the Rolls-Royce Phantom, particularly in the design of its front grille.
Last month, car lovers in Malaysia were treated to a spectacle of more than 10 new car models, mostly from China, displayed at the Malaysia Auto show.

Many would have experienced the strange feeling of seeing for ourselves legacy car shapes like those of the Porsche Cayenne or the Toyota Land Cruiser, but under China marques.

Some of us Malaysian motoring journalists had this experience in 2009 at the Shanghai Auto show.

It was Press Day in the morning and the hall wasn’t crowded yet. There was this beefy and red-faced man who was striding in an agitated pace between his Rolls-Royce booth and the Emgrand booth.

The target of his tantrum was the Geely GE which had a striking resemblance to the Rolls-Royce Phantom, particularly in the design of its front grille.

In the following weeks, the design similarities sparked debate about intellectual property rights and design ethics within the automotive industry.

Since then, there’s been a proliferation of China car companies copying iconic car designs, with one case where two rival China car companies adapted the Land Rover-Range Rover Evoque design.

Some of our readers have asked why the legacy car companies didn’t sue the China car companies for intellectual property theft.

The most recent insight came from a Chinese citizen, known only as Jeremy, a globe-trotting diving enthusiast who is an advertising industry practitioner from Beijing.

In his opinion, legacy car makers didn’t want to risk offending their customers in China, which is the biggest export market for some premium marques.

More fundamentally perhaps is that the issue of intellectual property rights is a complex and multi-faceted one.

IP rights are protected by national laws and internationally through agreements such as that of the World Trade Organization.

However, enforcing these rights across borders is tedious due to differences in jurisdictions, languages, legal systems, bureaucratic hurdles, and the resources required for litigation.

In the case of China and the allure it holds for global car manufacturers, this delicate balance between protecting intellectual property rights and maintaining commercial interests in a key market like China seems to have been resolved organically.

The legacy car makers have since resigned themselves to a position of “status quo” where they regard imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.

Going forward to the impact of China’s car industry, it’s time for Malaysians to enjoy the benefits of competition that the new brands are driving.

Since 1986, almost 90% of Malaysia’s car market has been dominated by five brands – Perodua, Proton, Toyota, Honda and Mazda.

However, Malaysians today can buy a Tesla 3 or a Y at a price which is said to be the lowest in the world except Shanghai.

As for electric vehicle price parity, this is offered by BYD’s entry level Dolphin which starts at RM100,000 and Neta’s entry-level EV at RM70,000 through a cash-back discount on the recommended retail price of RM100,000.

I don’t know how many car enthusiasts are like me, but prices are important. Some of us wouldn’t mind buying a look-alike Evoque, or a Land Cruiser, or a Jeep Wagoneer, or a Porsche Cayenne, assuming the technical specifications are acceptable.

The price of the copycat car must be significantly lower than the original because the consensus is that China car makers have a 30% cost advantage from their economies of scale and their vertical integration of the EV supply chain.

Once Proton and Perodua launch their EV models over the next two years, the government is likely to ease off on its moral suasion for China car companies to sell above RM100,000.

With unimpeded competition, prices could drop below RM50,000 for EVs with simple platforms.

For more cars to see, head over to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on June 8 and 9.





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