Trade commission: Redesigned Mahindra Roxor no longer a Jeep Wrangler copycat
Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. once again can produce and sell its off-road Roxor vehicle after the Indian manufacturer made adjustments to the design following a federal determination in June that called the Roxor a virtual copy of the Jeep Wrangler.
The International Trade Commission on Wednesday modified the cease-and-desist order against Mahindra that a Michigan court in August said barred the company from building the Roxor in Auburn Hills. The commission determined the post-2020 Roxor "does not infringe the Jeep Trade Dress" with its broader nose and new horizontal two-slat grille that retains the Roxor's retro look.
The decision validates Mahindra's redesign of the vehicle, according to a news release from the company: "Roxor was a success from the beginning with off-road enthusiasts and people with active outdoor lifestyles,” Rick Haas, CEO of Mahindra Automotive North America, said in a statement. “This ‘ruggedness’ was at the heart of the redesign as we wanted an aggressive look that reflected just how tough and capable Roxor is.”
Jeep maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, however, says it is not giving up its complaint against the Roxor: "While FCA is disappointed with the Commission’s decision regarding the redesign, we believe we will be successful in appealing this decision."
Mahindra in August placed on furlough its 100 employees at its Auburn Hills assembly plant just down Interstate 75 From Fiat Chrysler's North American headquarters. The manufacturer will recall those workers; however, it is not yet sharing its relaunch timeline, spokesman Rich Ansell said. More than 50% of the offroad vehicle is locally sourced, though Mahindra makes major vehicle parts such as engines and some bodies in its home country of India.
The decision had been a setback for India's largest SUV manufacturer, which has a long-held desire to enter the competitive yet lucrative U.S. market and the largest in the world for off-road vehicles.
Meanwhile, Jeep is facing growing competition in the off-road sector it historically has dominated for decades. Ford Motor Co. this summer debuted the return of the Bronco SUV after almost 25 years and its smaller version, the Bronco Sport, which is now available on dealer lots. The Bronco's launch at Michigan Assembly in Wayne has been delayed until the summer because of a parts shortage related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2018, Fiat Chrysler filed a complaint saying the Roxor is a “nearly identical copy” of the Wrangler in its “boxy body shape with flat-appearing vertical sides and rear body ending at about the same height as the hood.”
The trade commission had reaffirmed an administrative law judge's determination that the Roxor infringed on intellectual property of the Wrangler's design and that Mahindra intentionally wanted to conjure the Jeep image in customers' minds. It, however, was short of encroaching on Jeep's front grille trademark.
Jeep and Mahindra had worked together starting in the 1940s when the Mumbai-based automaker began assembling Jeeps at its Kandivali plant under contract with Willy Overland Export Corp. Mahindra had defended itself that such past agreements dating to as late as 2009 gave it the right to build and sell the Roxor.
Mahindra already has a significant presence in the U.S. as a distributor of tractors, utility vehicles and information technology services. The company has been in the Detroit area since 2013 with a technical center in Troy, and last year, it signed a non-binding agreement to acquire a 364-acre site at General Motors Co.'s former Buick City in Flint for an assembly plant if it were to win a contract with the U.S. Postal Service.