We recently wrote about how some Chinese car makers still can’t resist the temptation to simply copy existing car designs, a practice that may work in the short term, but won’t do their brand perception any favors in the long run. To build a brand beyond a certain threshold, and especially if you’re looking to export, you’ll need to develop a style of your own. And although foreign car makers are required to work with a local partner if they want to produce cars in China, they’ll be less likely to co-operate with a partner known for stealing intellectual property rights. Therefore, not all copying is done illegally. Some Chinese auto makers have bought the design license and sometimes even the entire production line from obsolete foreign models after those ended their original life cycle and production abroad. This practice has happened a lot in the past and continues today, not always with entire designs, but also with platforms, the most expensive part in the development of a car. I’ll try to make an as comprehensive list as possible, if you have any more input from platforms I may have forgotten, please let me know!
One of the most interesting stories involves Chery, now a 500.000 annual volume car maker, and Spanish brand Seat. Chery was founded in the mid-1990s by the government of Wuhu in the Chinese province of Anhui. At the time, the central Chinese government restricted the issue of licenses to produce cars to new players, but they would allow the production of engines. But the Wuhu government was determined and had acquired the production line of an outdated Ford engine and moved that from the UK to their province. However, they didn’t have any customers to purchase and use those engines, so they decided to contact Yin Tongyao, a former engineer at the FAW-Volkswagen Joint Venture who had worked on the FAW-Volkswagen Jetta. Tongyao struck a secret deal with Seat, whose first generation Toledo (Seat’s first model developed under VW ownership, built on the VW A2 platform of that same Jetta, the European Jetta II) was near the end of its life cycle. [Read more…]