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Mahindra Roxor is virtual copy of Jeep Wrangler, international commission rules

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. says it will continue to produce and sell its Michigan-built Roxor off-road vehicle despite the International Trade Commission ruling this week it is in violation of trade law following a complaint from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

The commission upheld a judge's ruling from November that the Roxor is a virtual copy of the Jeep Wrangler SUV. The ITC is prohibiting the importation of certain vehicles and components that it determined imitated the visual appearance of the Jeep and has ordered Mahindra to cease-and-desist the sale of already-imported parts.

The International Trade Commission upheld a ruling that the Mahindra Roxor off-road vehicle infringed on the trade dress of the Jeep Wrangler SUV.

Mahindra makes major vehicle parts such as engines and some bodies in its home country of India and assembles the Roxor for the U.S. market — the largest for off-road vehicles — at its plant in Auburn Hills just down Interstate 75 from Fiat Chrysler's North American headquarters.

Mahindra and its North American subsidiary "remain resolute in its position that the ROXOR does not dilute or violate Jeep's trade dress," the company said in a statement.

Mahindra is considering its options for further review. The Trump administration has 60 days to veto the decision on public policy grounds, though such a move is rare. The company also is considering an appeal to the federal circuit court.

The vehicles subject to the action were made in 2018 and 2019, according to the automaker. Those models are no longer in production after the vehicle's design was refreshed for the 2020 model year. Its starting price is $16,599, according to its website.

"Further design changes are in the works as part of the normal design cycle," the company said, adding it "remains committed to the ROXOR brand, its employees, and its dealers."

The decision is another setback for India's largest SUV manufacturer as it faces falling demand from the COVID-19 recession. It also may further challenge Mahindra in its long desire to enter the competitive yet lucrative U.S. market.

Fiat Chrysler said its Jeep Wrangler, pictured here, was copied by Mahindra for its off-road Roxor model.

"FCA is pleased with the USITC decision in this matter," Fiat Chrysler said in a statement. "We want to study the decision further before offering any substantive comment."

Fiat Chrysler is facing growing competition in the off-road sector that for decades it has dominated. In addition to the Roxor, the return of Ford Motor Co.'s Bronco and its smaller version is forthcoming. The Bronco is set to make its first appearance next month, and this week, Jim Farley, Ford's chief operating officer, said during an auto industry conference held by Deutsche Bank that it would be a "much superior product" to Jeep.

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.”

Cameron Elliot, the commission's administrative law judge, determined 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, according to the judge. Both companies appealed to the commission on the parts they lost.

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.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble