In March 2008, China’s Shuanghuan (SH) Auto presented the Noble to the Greek media. The two-door may look like Daimler’s Smart, but there are crucial differences. The three meter long Chinese vehicle can can carry up to four people; Daimler’s mini (not MINI) mobile seats two. The Noble is a front-engined, front wheel-drive car with a unibody structure; the Smart’s engine is underfloor with a rear-biased drivetrain, built around a “Tridion” safety cage. Yes, well, in April 2008, Daimler’s crack legal team moved quickly to prevent import and sales of the [alleged] Chinese Smart clone. This week, a judge struck down Daimler’s case.
“Common sense prevailed” according to the Judge’s final ruling. “The impression the Noble makes on a third and informed party by its visual appearance is different to the one that is made to the same person by the Smart . . . It is commonly accepted that the decision over buying a new car cannot be based only on the exterior characteristics but many other technical specifications such as the power of the engine, fuel consumption, trim specification, retail price and dealers’ network.”
The ruling states that the latter party’s doings “cannot possibly misguide the public” as the German company claimed in its legal request. The judge noted the salient fact that “the plaintiff is no longer selling the specific generation of the Smart which claims to have been copied, but a different vehicle, with much different characteristics.”
The judge also accepted in whole the defendant’s argument that cars of the same segment cannot avoid a certain level of resemblance due to technical restrictions, similar purposes and goals, especially when it comes to such small cars that present a challenge to design.
The ruling concludes that “there is no competition between the two companies.” [That would be Daimler A.G. and the Noble’s Greek importer, vs. (or not) Dealmar S.A. and its subsidiary China Motors Hellas.]
[Daimler has also taken the Italian importer to court over the same issue. The Greek ruling came first. The Noble’s Italian importer has now joined forces with the Greek importer. They’ve filed suit against Daimler seeking damages for keeping Noble off the market for so long.]
Thanks to this ruling, SH Auto can now sell its cars throughout EU at prices as low as half the price of Daimler’s Smart. It could also unleash the long-predicted wave of Chinese automotive exports into the Eurozone.