While it’s not necessarily a great hybrid, the Jeep Wrangler is undoubtedly an iconic off-road SUV. So much so that its predecessors inspired several other beloved off-roaders, including the original Toyota Land Cruiser. However, there’s a fine line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘plagiarism.’ And according to a recent Jeep court filing, the Mahindra Thar is guilty of the latter.
This isn’t the first time Mahindra’s been accused of copying the Jeep Wrangler design
Mahindra’s and Jeep’s relationship has been, to put it mildly, a bit rocky as of late. Mahindra, much like Mitsubishi at one point, has been licensed to sell Wrangler and other old-school Jeep clones in India for over 70 years. And this arrangement worked fine until it released the 2018 Roxor UTV.
Jeep claimed the Roxor too-closely resembled the CJ, the predecessor to the Wrangler, Automobile explains. Pre-Stellantis FCA claimed the Roxor violated the SUV’s ‘trade dress,’ i.e., the various design elements that define a Wrangler, Automotive News explains. And the US International Trade Commission sided with Jeep, granting a stop-sale on 2018 and 2019 Roxors, The Drive reports.
However, after the ITC’s decision, Mahindra redesigned the Roxor in 2020 to eliminate some Jeep Wrangler similarities. And the Indian company redesigned the UTV again for 2021, upon which it got the green light to restart Roxor sales, Hagerty reports. As of this writing, the redesigned Roxor hasn’t been unveiled, but it is legally considered distinct from the Jeep Wrangler.
Now, though, there’s another Mahindra vs. Jeep legal battle about to begin. Only it’s not happening in the US, but Australia. And it’s not the Roxor that’s involved, but the Mahindra Thar.
It’s the Jeep Wrangler vs. the Mahindra Thar in Australia’s courts
Remember how we said earlier that Mahindra is licensed to build Jeep clones in India? That’s essentially what the previous-gen Thar was, a licensed copy of the CJ-7, Hagerty reports. And it eventually formed the basis of the first Roxor design.
However, in 2020 Mahindra redesigned the Thar, giving it a look not unlike the contemporary Wrangler, Autoweek reports. At the time, this wasn’t an issue, because the Indian company had no plans to sell it in the US. But recent developments in Australia have caused Mahindra and Jeep to go to court once more.
Earlier this year, Mahindra exported one Thar to Australia for testing purposes, Car and Bike reports. By itself, this isn’t an issue: automakers ship cars around the world all the time for product testing. And it’s worth noting that Mahindra hasn’t started the homologation process required to sell the SUV in Australia.
However, Mahindra did launch a website where Australians could register an interest in buying Thars, Motor1 reports. Once they did, they received emails reading, “‘Thank you for your enquiry [sic] on the all-new Mahindra Thar. As we get closer to launching this exciting new vehicle in Australia, we will communicate with you via this email address.’”
Officially, Mahindra claims it has no plans to offer the Thar for sale in Australia, Car Advice reports. And the ‘register interest’ site has since been taken down.
What’s going to happen now?
Following a hearing in Australia’s Federal Court, Jeep requested a 90-day notice from Mahindra in case it plans to sell the Thar there. Mahindra responded by asking for a shorter 45-day notice period.
This decrease could theoretically allow the company to market the SUV “or promote it before certification work had commenced,” Car Advice notes. Hence why Jeep’s legal team is apprehensive about the whole thing, Car Advice reports.
Jeep’s and Mahindra’s legal teams will have another day in court on May 21, 2021.
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