The great Chinese rip-off

The great Chinese rip-off

The annual Chinese motor show, this year held in the sprawling metropolis of Shanghai, is gaining increasing importance with every passing year. Chinese car buying is on the up and the offerings on show reflect this, with western car manufacturers jostling for position to get the attention of what is rapidly becoming the largest new car market on earth.

However, things are changing. Whereas in the past the show halls would be packed with the latest Bentleys and Audis (and they still are), there is a growing presence from China's increasingly strong domestic car brands. Indeed, industry experts are predicting that in the near future, we will be buying cars made in the People's Republic, and there is evidence to support that, with Great Wall already offering models in the UK.
What western motorists won't see is the, ahem, similarities exhibited by these manufacturers' Chinese market models. Due to notoriously lax copyright laws, many are direct (if poor) copies of popular European and American models. Try as they might, Western carmakers struggle to stop them, with Chinese courts almost always coming down in favour of the home brand.

Here are our top five Chinese copies:

Geely GE

That oversized grille and imposing aesthetic can make mean one thing, this limousine is modelling itself on the epitome of luxury, the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Unfortunately Geely forgot that the key to true luxury ambience is space, light and tasteful materials, decking the Geely out in gaudy looking wood and shiny leather. It can even be specified with a single, throne-like rear seat. Emperor syndrome, anyone?

Great Wall Olay

When the radical electric-powered Renault Twizy first appeared on the scene in 2012, its futuristic yet cutesy styling was heralded by many as the future of motoring. Unfortunately Great Wall has been less successful in its recreation. The short wheelbase, windowless 'blade' doors and 1+1 seating arrangement are all present and correct, but the tiny wheels and dumpy styling make it look more Fisher Price than Fisker Karma. From the front it looks even worse, like a minivan that's been squashed in a vice.

BYD F8

BYD stands for 'Build Your Dreams' and in automotive terms, there's little more you can dream for than cruising about in the sun in a luxury convertible GT. Unfortunately, unlike the Mercedes SL that it is trying to emulate, the BYD F8 misses the mark considerably. Not only does it not have a continent-crushing range of engines, it also misses out on the Merc's timelessly elegant exterior styling and classy, sumptuous interior. Instead it looks like a poor cut and shut of a Chevrolet Cruze and the dashboard is so shiny it could well be greasy to the touch.

Shuanghuan CEO

When BMW launched the X5 4x4, it couldn't have known quite how successful it would become, spawning a whole market segment of premium lifestyle SUVs. It's no wonder that Chinese based Shuanghuan Automobile Co wanted a piece of the action. Despite recreating the X5's crisp styling as though it had been described to them over the phone, Shuanghuan caused such controversy with the CEO that a Munich court eventually banned imports of it into the country. BMW had no such luck in the Chinese courts and the CEO remains on sale.

Shanxi Victory

There are of course some cars that are plain rubbish even before being copied. The Cadillac Escalade is a prime example, pandering to the American idea of luxury that is shiny wood and a huge pickup body. It's constructed with all the precision of a lean-to and features plastics that make a wheelie bin look plush. This didn't stop Shanxi not just cribbing design details, but producing a near verbatim copy, only changing the grille and front headlight design. We'd imagine the law suit is in the post.

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