Mike Stevens | May 22, 2009

Some of the cars from China’s rapidly growing auto industry look like nothing else. Some, however, create a rather overwhelming feeling of... well... déjà vu. To say the least.

Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz and Smart, had that funny feeling of familiarity when it laid its eyes on Shuanghuan Automobile's Noble.

With the Noble going on sale in a number of European countries, Daimler decided to intervene, claiming that the Noble looked uncomfortably similar to the Smart Fortwo. Greek courts ruled against Daimler however, declaring that "an informed buyer would not confuse the Noble with the Smart Fortwo".

shuanghuan-noble-front1

According to the Greek courts, if a vehicle varies in its technical specification, then any external similarities are irrelevant. To that end, China Motors, the company which imports the Noble in Europe, claims that the front-engined, front-wheel-drive Noble with seating for four in no way imitates the rear engined, rear-wheel-drive, two-seater Fortwo.

When it comes to the rather blatant styling similarities between the two, the court put that down to the pair belonging to the same minicar class of vehicles. Apparently as a “result of their common nature” it is acceptable, even unavoidable, for a newcomer to be styled similar to an established model.

shuanghuan-noble-rear

With Australia due to see its first Chinese cars lauched here later this year, we should see an intriguing mix of unique cars as well as those which look strangely reminiscent of other models. Lifan’s LF 320 should be the first look-alike seen here, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the current MINI range.

Already, Chinese auto makers have ‘borrowed’ inspiration from BMW’s X5, Daewoo’s Matiz and the Mercedes-Benz SLK. Various legal challenges have been mounted, some successfully and others less so.

So the question remains, are the Chinese clones good enough to fool your neighbours into thinking you’ve shelled out for a top-shelf European car, or will they always carry the 'copy-cat' stigma?

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