Chinese knock-off iPhones, Chinese knock-off purses, knock-off perfume… Chinese knock-off cars?
Patrick Hofftstetter dives inside the world of Chinese knock-off cars.
It’s been a long held belief that sooner or later we will start seeing Chinese built cars on American soil. BYD, Chery, and Geely are names that we hear every now and then in the states, but the never in the context of having them reach our shores.
As highlighted by Top Gear, the Chinese market seems to have a bad problem with cheating off their neighbors’ paper. I’m – of course – talking about the many lawsuits that the manufactures have been hit with by bigger marques. From copying the new mini, all the way to copying the BMW X5, these cars are cheaper than their rivals and are sheltered from most trouble by their government, but here, this makes them unsaleable.
Since joining the World Trade Organization in the early 2000s, the Chinese car market has grown to be about a quarter of all cars produced in a given year. Somebody thinks that they’re worth buying. With Soviet origins, the country’s car market has expanded from just being for the very wealthy and state officials, to a real option for the middle class. Due to strict regulations, most cars in China were produced in Russia.
How is that possible? Well, after having a major import crisis, the Chinese government introduced joint ventures with foreign car makers. For example, the most popular brand in China is Volkswagen. That includes the two companies that have a joint venture with China, meaning that includes Jettas made in the People’s Republic. But, on the other hand, you have companies like BYD that has been accused of copying designs instead of producing a car with a joint venture of the original OEM.
The expansion of the market has let these copycat cars to take hold in a way that hasn’t happened before. We are used to knockoff luxury goods, like handbags or smart phones, but what if you had the option to buy a knockoff car? Would you consider going lower in quality to have the look of something much more expensive? To me, a knock off car is interesting only as a concept. I would never trust that a bootleg car wasn’t compromised in terms of performance and safety. How would I know that it was built to the same standards of the original?
Now of course these cars aren’t marketed as an imitation product, they instead present themselves as something unique and original. Of course, If you even have a passing knowledge of cars, that facade seems to fade. Some domestic dealerships ever take to badging the cars as the original model, not the BYD copy. And even though BYD has an American arm, I doubt we will see the company selling cars here until we can call all of their designs no one but their own. Is there a prejudice against cars from China? I don’t believe so, but until the US market sees a real success, I don’t think we will see a favorable opinion.