Land Rover lookalike proof that copycat strategy persists in China
If it looks like a Land Rover and purrs like a Land Rover, it could be a copycat.
In yet another instance of the mainland's fabled knock-off prowess, small carmaker LandWind has just launched its newest model, X7, which is a striking lookalike of Evoque, a compact luxury sport-utility vehicle from the stable of British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover owned by India's Tata Motors.
Launching the new model at the just-concluded Guangzhou car show, LandWind, owned by a joint venture of Changan Auto and Jiangling Motors, has priced the X7 from just 135,000 yuan (HK$170,300), compared with Evoque's entry-level tag of 578,000 yuan.
As competition continues to be fierce, imitating foreign luxury brands was still a prime strategy for some smaller, non-mainstream carmakers, said John Zeng, a director at consultancy LMC Automotive.
"I believe LandWind X7 will sell well as its resemblance with the Land Rover model will create a talking point. That helps in the marketing and the advertising," Zeng said, adding, however, that he expected very little impact on Evoque sales as the two models targeted different customers, with substantial differences in features and parts.
Neither LandWind nor Jaguar Land Rover were available for comment. But JLR chief executive Ralf Speth told Britain's Autocar magazine last week: "The fact that this kind of copying is ongoing in China is very disappointing.
"The intellectual property is owned by Jaguar Land Rover and if you break that IP, then you are in breach of international regulations."
Andrea Graef, a principal at consultancy AT Kearney, which advises the car sector, agreed.
"It raises concerns for all international car manufacturers as it shows that copying by Chinese original equipment manufacturers is still possible and accepted in China," Graef said.
Changan is one of the four biggest Chinese carmakers and has joint ventures with Ford, Suzuki and PSA Peugeot Citroen. Jiangling also has a joint venture with Ford.
Jaguar Land Rover recently opened its first fully fledged manufacturing facility outside Britain in Changshu near Shanghai. China is among its top markets for Evoque, which it is making in partnership with Chery.
The launch of LandWind X7 showed there was a market for cheap copycats, mainly first-time car buyers in smaller cities and more remote regions, Graef said.
"I cannot afford a Land Rover, a LandWind doesn't seem bad, although it's allegedly a copycat," wrote a Weibo user named "NPC" on the microblog.
But other posts on mainland social media reflect the disquiet among a growing number of mainlanders embarrassed by the country's copycat syndrome. "I feel ashamed about LandWind," wrote another Weibo user with the handle "Will8".
Copycat cars on the mainland have a long history, with everything from Mercedes-Benz and BMW to Fiat and Hummer having been flattered with imitation.
The Refine A6 sedan launched by Anhui Jianghuai at the Beijing car show in April was said to have been a rip-off of the A6 model of German luxury brand Audi.
Zhang Zhiyong, an independent industry observer, however, said copying from foreign carmakers was a fading trend and was more common until a couple of years ago, when China's car industry was less mature.
"Home-grown brands have been making efforts to boost quality and create original models in recent years," Zhang said. "To build up their own technology, of course, Chinese carmakers still need to make more investment in research."
Zeng said large Chinese carmakers such as Great Wall, Geely and Chery had been investing heavily in original brands.
Great Wall's SUV model, H6, was received well while Geely was also making efforts to launch more new products with its Volvo marque, he said. "With some weaker carmakers likely to be eliminated amid an industry consolidation, originality is essential for survival," he said.