Jaguar Land Rover may have to grin and bear an alleged Chinese copycat of its best-selling Evoque model.
The Midland car-maker had pledged to take legal action against Chinese car-maker LandWind over its proposed X7 model, which Land Rover bosses said bears a striking resemblance to the Range Rover Evoque.
The row erupted in November last year just weeks after Jaguar Land Rover opened its first Chinese car factory near Shanghai in a joint venture with Chery, creating 2,000 new jobs.
Last year’s X7’s unveiling at the Guangzhou Motor Show prompted a strong rebuke from Jaguar Land Rover’s chief executive Ralf Speth, who said the company would consult with its partner Chery with a view to taking legal action.
But now Mr Speth has revealed the car-maker may have no legal recourse open to it.
Speaking at a media briefing at this week’s Auto Shanghai, one of China’s main motor shows, he said: “There are no laws to protect us.
“We have to take it as it is. It’s a pity but it is as it is.
“In Europe, we can be protected against this kind of copy-paste in the design language, in the features but also the technology. You can’t be protected in China.”
Although Mr Speth said he accepted that in all likelihood there was little that could be done he warned the issue could damage China's reputation as a place to do business.
He added: “I really regret that all of a sudden copy-paste is coming up again. That will not help the reputation of China, of Chinese industry at all.”
Although LandWind’s Evoque rival has not yet been launched it is likely to cost just a fraction of the price of an Evoque.
The LandWind X7 was again being exhibited at Auto Shanghai and is expected to go on sale in July or August this year, with a starting price of £16,200, which compares to a starting price in China of £48,424 for a Chinese-made Evoque.
Land Rover executives fear the Chinese SUV could hit sales of the Evoque in China, with the giant Far Eastern superpower currently Jaguar Land Rover’s most popular market worldwide.
Speaking at the Guangzhou Motor Show last year, Mr Speth said: “The fact that this kind of copying is ongoing in China is very disappointing. The simple principle is that it is not something that should happen.
“The intellectual property is owned by Jaguar Land Rover and if you break that then you are in breach of international regulations.
“As a company, we have invested heavily in China with our joint venture partner Chery. That commitment is based on a clear business plan that allows us to hit our sales targets at clear prices.
“Anything that damages the potential profitability of our plant damages the integrity of those plans.”
He added that he believed Chinese officials would not be happy at actions that would “undermine the credibility of the country”.
Following the Guangzhou Motor Show Jaguar Land Rover said the matter would be investigated fully, adding that it would “take whatever steps are appropriate” to protect its intellectual property.
LandWind is a joint venture between two Chinese car-makers – Changan Auto and Jiangling Motors.
Land Rover is not the only car-maker to have suffered from copycat allegations in the Chinese market.
Audi, BMW, Jeep, Lexus, Mini, Toyota and Volkswagen have all been affected.
Even exclusive car-maker Rolls Royce has been drawn into the battle with allegations the Geely GE was a copycat version of the Rolls Royce Phantom.
Land Rover will now be hoping increasingly discerning Chinese customers will dismiss any copycats as pale imitations of original models.
Speaking at Auto Shanghai, Bob Grace, Jaguar Land Rover’s heard of Chinese operations, said: “The Chinese consumer is an intelligent consumer — they know what they are buying.
“If you look at that branded product, in no way does it compare to anything that comes out of our factories.”
Mr Grace added that the Chinese-built Evoque has seen “steady” sales since production began four weeks ago.
Jaguar Land Rover has seen its sales in China increase almost tenfold over the last six years to 120,000 units.