The Chinese car industry is a very big deal. In 2013, China produced a whopping 18.7 million cars, which equates to 22.7 per cent of global car production for that year. Many of those models were from brands familiar to western car buyers, some were from companies we’ve never heard but it's a third group we're interested in here. These are cars we've never heard of that still seem to look strangely familiar, these are the Chinese copycat cars.
Chinese domestic car brands have a less than proud history of copying car designs from other manufacturers. Some are blatant rip-offs others are more subtle homages to the original. From MINI lookalikes to cut-price Range Rover Evoques and even an attempt at the grandeur of a Rolls-Royce, we’ve picked out some of the closest imitations and put them side-by-side with their doppelgangers.
Scroll down the page for our pick of the recent Chinese copycat cars...
We spoke to Oliver Tidman, a solicitor at intellectual property law firm BRIFFA, to find out what legal standing a car maker has if it thinks its design has been copied by another.
“There is no international copyright law,” he told us, “but there are international agreements such as the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. These require countries to recognise each other’s intellectual property laws.
“Copyright laws vary from one country to another, and while the rules may differ, the principles are similar.”
And it’s not simply a material object that would be the subject of breaking copyright law, but the original design itself. “In the UK, copyright law protects certain types of work, including artistic,” Tidman added. “In terms of car designs, it’s likely that copyright would subsist in any original 2D graphic – on a computer screen or a drawing.”
If a company does think a design has been copied, however, it’s not that easy to prove. “The company would have to prove that there has been copying by assessing the objective similarities and deciding whether those similarities are the result of independent creation, or whether the infringing design has been derived from the original design,” said our expert. “There must be a causal connection between the two works, which can be difficult to prove.”
In addition to copyright protection, it is possible to register designs. “If the design or prototype is deemed original, it is possible to obtain registered design protection for up to 25 years,” Tidman explained.
Check-out the copycat cars below, alongside the models they seem to have drawn inspiration from...
Small electric cars were everywhere at the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show, and the one getting the most attention was this. Clearly mixing the looks of a Smart – and its distinctive Tridion safety cell – the E30 also sports a knock-off Tesla Model S-style large tablet screen in the dashboard. Slightly smaller and wider than the Smart, the E30 has an electric driving range of around 93 miles with a top speed nudging 50mph.
You’ll have no doubt heard all about the LandWind X7. It’s a highly convincing copy of the Range Rover Evoque but we suspect that the Brits probably wouldn’t offer their premium compact SUV in quite this lurid shade of green.
While the outside is near-Evoque in looks, the interior isn’t – but despite this, Land Rover is understandably not happy. With an asking price of around £14,000 the X7 could well take sales away from the now locally-produced Evoque which costs some £35k more.
With a name relating to George S. Patton, the famous and highly-respected US Army General who commanded the Seventh Army during World War 2, there’s no doubting which country the G Patton is inspired by.
The 19-foot long 4x4 mixes a whole number of classic and American off-roaders as well as bespoke Army vehicles. It can come as a seven-seater or with a cinema in the back and two luxury chairs, and it’s powered by a 6.8-litre V10 producing 357bhp.
The Hongqi LS5 proves that the Evoque isn’t the only Range Rover product China seems so keen on, but also the big daddy of the range. Sitting alongside the bizarrely-styled L5 limo, the LS5 uses the previous generation Range Rover as its styling model, just stretched a bit to suit more Chinese tastes.
There’s even a hint of the Jeep Grand Cherokee at the front too. Inside, the passengers are treated to lots of luxury gizmos along with a dashboard that has a passing resemblance to – surprise, surprise – an old Range Rover’s. Under the bonnet is a turbocharged 4.0-litre petrol pushing out around 510bhp.
The Eagle is a car designed to show off the country’s expertise in producing an electric sports cars, but there’s no getting away from which cars the designer has taken his cues from. We believe it’s powered by a tiny battery pack that gives just a top speed of around 70mph and a 160-miles range – a sharp contrast to the looks.
There’s no getting away from how much like the Eagle looks like a Porsche Cayman with a Ferrari F12 nose grafted on. Even the badge is a near copy of the Porsche’s iconic golden shield.
While some companies won’t let on just which car they might be imitating, it seems that JAC was quite happy to own up when it badged its latest release the A6. Yes, that’s right, the A6.
Not only does it have the exact same name as the Audi A6 saloon, but it looks very similar to the original model. It’s the grille and stepped headlights that really give the game away.
Another model that looks more like a merging of two cars than just a single copy of one. The BAIC X424 has a hint of the Jeep Cherokee at the front with the large grille openings, while the side profile is clearly taken from the rugged Wrangler model. Perhaps the company felt that customers wouldn’t be happy with just one Jeep and instead wanted the best of both.
While some imitations are fairly obvious at a glance, others are disguised a little better. The BYD S7 may not have the look of the Lexus RX from the front, but there’s no hiding the similarities towards the rear, with the same curved windows, small spoiler and tail-lights. BYD has done a decent job of keeping this quiet, but not good enough.
Fancy the luxury of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, but don’t quite have the £305,000 to cover the costs? Well the Geely GE might just be the thing for you. It’s got the big chrome grille and even an imitation Spirit of Ecstasy on the bonnet. Just make sure nobody gets too close to see what it actually is.
The round headlights, that front grille and the cheeky hatchback shape... the Lifan 330 has more than a hint of the second-generation MINI Cooper about it. When it was launched at April’s Beijing Motor Show, even the press release hailed the car as fashionable, artistic and with ‘mini’ temperament. Lifan was just ahead of the British brand with the five-door bodystyle, however, but that’s no excuse.
The Chery Riich M1 is a small hatchback designed for inner city commuters. While the front end is ugly enough to not really resemble anything on UK roads, the curvaceous side profile and rear of the car look like a direct lift from the Toyota Yaris MkII. Fortunately for Toyota that’s where the similarities end, and it’s unlikely to ever be any real competition to the established – and far more attractive – hatchback.
The large SUV, revealed at April’s Beijing Motor Show, is a doppelganger of two models from the VW Group. Take the Audi Q5 and VW Touareg, mix a few of the parts together and this is the result. On the show stand the Zotye T600 was even glistening in the same shade of brown as the VW. Surely more than a coincidence?
Brilliance is the partner of BMW in China, and the X1 compact crossover went on sale in the country through the partnership. So, it’s interesting to see that Brilliance launched its very own rival to the X1, dubbed the V5. It’s probably one of the closest copies we’ve ever seen. Of course, this version is cheaper than the BMW model, but is only sold in China.