April 21st, 2009
02:32 PM GMT
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If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck it's probably a duck, right? Wrong. Just ask the Rolls-Royce motor company. It is mightily unimpressed by a concept car produced by Chinese carmaker Geely, on display for the first time at this year's Shanghai auto show.

At first glance you can see why.

Chinese automaker Geely unveiled its GE in Shanghai.
Chinese automaker Geely unveiled its GE in Shanghai.

Geely has produced the GE which looks uncannily like the Rolls-Royce Phantom: from the iconic bonnet (hood) ornament - the Spirit of Ecstasy - to the stately and equally recognizable grille. Even the rear end tapers in on the Geely.

Now you may have expected Rolls to shrug it off, to look down its aristocratic nose and smile benevolently at an upstart paying it a sort of back-handed compliment.

Absolutely not. In the whispering, highly refined world of top-end luxury marques, Rolls was pulling no punches.

"Yes, I've had a good look at it," said Richard Carter, head of worldwide communications for the fabled British carmaker, now owned by BMW.

"It's a copy and we are frankly disappointed with Geely."

Geely's response is to say it's absolutely not a copy. It's an entirely original design, and what's more they really don't want to get into a discussion about it.

Take a look at the pictures and decide for yourself.

Copying is nothing new in the auto industry. The Japanese did it, the Koreans did it and the Chinese are now doing it, said Michael Dunne of auto research house, JD Power.

It's a long-standing joke in the auto industry that R&D stands not for Research and Design, but Receive and Duplicate.

But why is Rolls-Royce so sensitive? After all, it's not likely anyone will buy a Geely GE (if it ever makes it to production) in the mistaken belief it's a Roller. And Rolls-Royce says it can't imagine the car, even if it were in production, having an impact on its own profits.

What Rolls' action does show, according to Dunne, is just how concerned the global auto industry is by the imminent arrival of China on the world stage.

He added that it will take perhaps three to five years for China to start competing against the likes of the mass-produced family cars from Europe, Japan and Korea. It will take longer at the luxury end.

But in the meantime the non-Chinese automakers are sending a message to China that it cannot take anything for granted as it makes its way up the value chain.

It's a tough industry, especially in these times, and no one is going to get a free ride.

Rolls-Royce, quite understandably, defends its reputation vigorously against anyone who uses its designs without asking. This is no exception.

The question, though, is what can Rolls-Royce actually do about it.

"Western auto makers have taken Chinese carmakers to court in the past over what they see as major copyright infringements, but so far they have never won a case," said Dunne.

But, if the reaction of Rolls-Royce, is anything to go by they are not going to stop trying.

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soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. samantha

    This is typical of the way Chinese steal everything.

    April 21, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  2. Yuri Lipkov

    Well, it's not really a threat, is it? I mean, fake Gucci and Rolex are being peddled on the streetcorners worldwide, but the real thing is still the real thing.

    April 21, 2009 at 3:43 pm |
  3. Collins Agholor, NIGERIA.

    i think the global economic downturn has set the stage for an automobile evolution. Those who are competitive will thrive, those who aren't will be DRIVEN to extinction.

    April 21, 2009 at 4:02 pm |
  4. Denis Keegan

    And it will probably be sold through Wallmart

    April 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm |
  5. Prajwal Tuladhar

    No surprise at all.
    Someone has said you should do what you are good doing at. Chinese companies (most of them) are good at replicating other recognized brands so, they are doing so.

    April 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
  6. Dave

    Almost all companies steal ideas, either subtle or blatently. There is a history of it. They steal from each other. They steal from the average Joe too.

    In the end it all comes down to who has the better lawyers, not the better morals. There are no morals in business. Go ahead and run your business on morals and see how long you stay in business. I'm not saying it's right but that IS the way it IS.

    April 21, 2009 at 5:06 pm |
  7. BFuniv Rector

    The Chrysler models in the US tried very hard to look like a Bentley or Rolls – but not quite. A nice design coup by being copy-cats; of course Chrysler is run by the government now (like Chinese makers?), so there will be zero innovation.

    If they come out of bankruptcy.

    For now I would consider the GE a student design exercise. We will soon discover if the student awakes.

    May 27, 2009 at 12:58 pm |
  8. bandsxbands

    Digital memory,to me, is something that I seemingly will never have enough of. It feels like megabytes and gigabytes have become a permanent part of my every day existence. Ever since I bought a Micro SD Card for my DS flash card, I've been on permanent watch like a prison guard for large memory at cheap prices. I feel like I'm going insane.(Submitted from Nintendo DS running R4i DS ComP)

    March 3, 2010 at 7:53 am |
  9. Rolls Royce Phantom

    There are several other points to be kept in mind. Firstly, to ensure that the Rolls Royce is made available to you, you must plan and book in advance.


    September 9, 2010 at 10:06 pm |

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