Jeep cries foul over look-alike from India's Mahindra Group

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
 (PRNewsfoto/Mahindra Automotive North Ameri)

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is trying to block Indian automaker Mahindra Group from selling a Jeep look-alike in the United States.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission, the automaker requests that an investigation be opened into the Mahindra Roxor's alleged trademark infringement of the Jeep brand. Fiat Chrysler wants the federal agency issue an exclusion order to stop Mahindra from building, selling or importing the off-road vehicle into the U.S., according to an FCA spokesman.

Mahindra recently built a new production facility in Auburn Hills — just down the street from Fiat Chrysler's global headquarters — to assemble the Roxor off-road utility vehicle.

2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Fiat Chrysler alleges in the complaint that the Mahindra Roxor "dilutes" the Jeep brand and infringes on essential trademarks, including design elements from the "flat appearing grille with vertical elongated grille slots" to the "boxy body shape with flat appearing vertical side and rear body panels ending at about the same height as the hood."

Jeep and Mahindra did work together some seven decades ago when the Indian automaker began assembling Jeeps at its Kandivali Plant in India under contract with Willy Overland Export Corp.

Mahindra said in a statement Friday that the filing is without merit, and that past agreements give it the right to build and sell the Roxor.

"Mahindra has a historic relationship and agreements with FCA and its predecessors that go back 70 years," the company said. "The relationship began in the 1940s with the original agreement with Willys and continues to this day, with the most recent agreement executed with FCA (then Chrysler Group LLC)  in 2009.  

"Our actions, products, and product distribution (including  Roxor) both honor the legacy of the relationship and the terms of our agreements with FCA."

The new Auburn Hills facility, which opened at the end of last year, is expected to produce 12,000 of Mahindra's steel-bodied Roxors annually. The company expects to employ 670 workers by 2020, with at least 90 manufacturing jobs at the plant.

It's all a play to enter the lucrative, but competitive, U.S. auto market. 

“This vehicle will be a step up and will take us into a whole different orbit,” Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra said at the opening of its new plant and North American headquarters in late 2017. “I think a very logical step after that would be to get on road.”

The Mumbai-based automaker, a seller of SUVs, pickup trucks and commercial vehicles in its home market, has long hinted at a desire to join the U.S. auto market. And the automaker appears to be making good on those intentions with the Roxor and with a planned global platform for pickup trucks and SUVs by 2020

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 when it invested $4 million to open its North American headquarters and technical center in Troy.

Twitter: @noranaughton