We’ve been following the battle between FCA, who owns Jeep, and Mahindra, the Indian company that has been license-building Jeeps since the 1940s, over Mahindra’s off-road-only vehicle, the Roxor. Essentially, Mahindra is selling a non-street-legal vehicle in America that, because it comes from the same original source, looks a hell of a lot like a Jeep. Jeep is very unhappy about this, hence the legal battle. Today, Mahindra issued a statement about the International Trade Commission’s (ITC) current position, and announced a new facelift for the Roxor that will, hopefully, be more palatable to FCA.
Here is Mahindra’s statement:
We are pleased that the ITC has chosen to review the initial recommendation of the administrative law judge in our dispute with FCA. The commission indicated that it will be reviewing both the validity of FCA’s previously unclaimed U.S. rights in trade dress as well as whether the 2018/2019 ROXOR infringes on the claimed trade dress. In addition the ITC will be reviewing whether there was infringement by Mahindra of any of FCA’s registered trademarks. We are optimistic that the ITC will in its review conclude that FCA did not establish previously unclaimed U.S. rights in trade dress and that there was no infringement of either trade dress or registered trademarks.
Mahindra has already launched its model year 2020 ROXOR with significant styling changes and will make additional styling changes, if so required in cooperation with the ITC. In the meantime, Mahindra expects to enjoy increased sales of the 2020 model with its unique new grille design and numerous product improvements, which should continue creating additional jobs going forward.
The gist here is that nothing has been actually decided just yet, and the ITC will be reviewing the case.
The bigger news is that Mahindra has taken a step to help appease FCA by redesigning the front face of the Roxor to make it look less like the iconic Jeep seven-slot grille face.
This should help with one of the statements about Jeep’s “trade dress,” the distinctive visual elements that identify Jeeps:
(iv) Flat appearing grille with vertical elongated grille slots and a trapezoidal outline that curves around round headlamps positioned on the upper part of the grille;
Even though the original Roxor took pains to differentiate from Jeep’s grille design (it has four tall, angled and tapered slots and one shorter central grille slot with a badge above it) the new design is significantly different, with the headlamps gaining a body-colored oblong surround to separate that section into the primary “face,” and additional short horizontal air-intake slots below.
It actually kind of reminds me of the design of the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruisers. Let’s hope Toyota doesn’t decide to sue Mahindra next.
While I certainly understand FCA’s legal need to protect their intellectual property, this whole mess feels a bit absurd. The Roxor and the modern Jeep Wrangler are not competing with one another, and are vastly different in price, capability, and even the legal ability to drive on a road.
If anyone is actually confused by a Roxor while shopping for a Jeep, maybe that someone isn’t qualified to be piloting a motor vehicle at all.
Plus, again, this isn’t a simple copycat situation; Mahindra has had a license to build Jeeps for over 70 years.
That said, I’m still baffled that Mahindra didn’t reach out to FCA before bringing the Roxor to America. I feel like some conversations before Roxor production started in Michigan could have gone a long way to preventing all this mess.