By on September 11, 2018

Image: Mahindra & Mahindra

A decade-old document signed by Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra and Chrysler Group LLC will be at the center of an investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Announced Tuesday and reported by Reuters, the feds will look into the patent dispute that erupted when Mahindra began importing the very Jeep-like Roxor all-terrain vehicle into the United States. FCA claimed the Roxor looks too much like the classic Jeep CJ line, predecessor to the Wrangler, and filed an intellectual property complaint to the ITC. Nuh uh — we had a deal, Mahindra responded.

FCA wants Mahindra’s U.S. arm to cease the importation and sale of Roxors or Roxor parts, but the India-based company is now seeking an injunction against FCA. It’s a pretty bitter dispute, perhaps even more so than those seen between Western automakers and makers of carbon-copy Chinese knock-offs. The Roxor does look an awful lot like the classic Jeep, adopting numerous styling cues long associated with the go-anywhere brand.

But the 2009 agreement forged between Mahindra and Chrysler — with current FCA CEO (then Jeep division boss) Mike Manley holding the U.S. pen — focuses not on the body, but on the grille. Mahindra found itself in hot water at the time after designing an SUV with a seven-slot grille, a feature at the heart of Jeep’s identity. The two sides reached an agreement: If Mahindra agreed to redesign the grille in a manner that met Chrysler’s approval, the American automaker would refrain from any claim of design or trademark infringement against the other automaker’s vehicles, so long as said grille was in place. (You can see the before-and-after grille designs in court documents published by Jalopnik.)

While the Roxor’s grille sticks to the general design seen the 2009 document, the body — “trade dress” in automaker legalease — goes straight for Jeep’s heart. FCA mentions it extensively in its ITC complaint; more so than the grille, in fact.

Whatever the ITC decides, we’ll know about it soon enough. Reuters claims the feds aim to complete the investigation into Mahindra’s Roxor within 45 days.

[Image: Mahindra & Mahindra]

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24 Comments on “Feds Wade Into Fiat Chrysler-Mahindra Spat, Promise to Get to Bottom of Roxor Affair...”

  • avatar

    What do the bodies of the India-market totes-not-Jeeps look like?

  • avatar

    That’s a tough one…

    The “letter of the law” of this agreement is that FCA won’t bring “any” trade dress complaints against a vehicle using this grille design.

    The “spirit of the law” on this obviously only covers the grille design.

    Should be interesting.

  • avatar

    If a Mahindra and a Tata were to collide at 5 mph, the resulting explosion would create a supermassive black hole.

  • avatar

    This isn’t the first CJ copy out there – weren’t there earlier ones in Asia, like in the Philippines?

    • 0 avatar

      Jeepney’s, the ubiquitous taxicabs of the Philippines. Rode in ’em many times years ago. One of the manufacturers, Sarao Motors, still builds them – check out their Facebook page. I don’t think any are exported or built outside that country though so I doubt that FCA could really complain.

  • avatar

    Mahindra – that grille has an odd number of slots but totally not 7… SO THERE!

    I still argue that FCA dealers should simply sell these from the Mopar/Jeep accessories catalog and that way everybody wins.

  • avatar

    Hmmm… I think the kicker would be to put some COMPLETELY non-Jeep-y grille on the thing, and THEN ask if anybody might confuse it with a Jeep. If the answer is “yes”, than FCA might have a claim. If the answer’s “no”, then clearly it’s the (authorized) grille giving the not-a-Jeep it’s “Jeep-i-ness”

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    “If Mahindra agreed to redesign the grille in a manner that met Chrysler’s approval, the American automaker would refrain from any claim of design or trademark infringement against the other automaker’s vehicles, so long as said grille was in place. (You can see the before-and-after grille designs in court documents published by Jalopnik.)”

    That’s not what the agreement says at all. Not even close. The agreement was that if Mahindra used the approved 5 slot grille design then Jeep would not sue them over the use of THAT GRILLE. ONLY. It said nothing about the rest of the car. It would be crazy for Chrysler to give Mahindra a get out of jail free card to make an exact copy of a Jeep just as long as they used a different grille and they are not crazy and they never made any such agreement. Whoever wrote the above gets a zero in reading comprehension.

    • 0 avatar


      “Chrysler agrees and warrants that it will not assert against Mahindra, its affiliates, authorized dealers, or customers, or anyone else, any claim for infringement of Chrysler’s trade dress, trademark, or other intellectual property rights in the United States based on: (1) a grille having the Approved Grille Design; or (2) a vehicle containing or using the Approved Grille Design.”

      Clause #2 demonstrates that FCA has literally the worst lawyers money can buy.

      They would have been better off never to try to fight this, as all they are doing is providing free publicity.

      Also, does anyone smell a great business opportunity to fabricate some grilles, or to modify existing grilles to fit?

      • 0 avatar

        Garrett, There’s more than one way to interpret clause #2. To use an extreme example, your suggesting that they could create a minivan, call it a Chrysler Pacifica, but they’d be OK, as long as they used the approved grill design. We both know that wouldn’t fly.

        What it may be (what do I know?) be saying is that Chrysler wouldn’t have a claim based only on grill design.

  • avatar

    Many, many years ago, Mahindra entered into a licensing agreement to build Jeeps with an FCA predecessor, possibly Willys. If that agreement still stands, and it says nothing about Mahindra exporting said vehicles to the US, then they can.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    I would also note that the only feature Chrysler objected to on the Scorpio was the 7 slot grille design because the rest of the Scorpio doesn’t copy classic Jeep trade dress at all, while the Roxor looks a lot like a Jeep CJ aside from the grille. Of course, there have been a lot of Willys Jeep inspired vehicles made (and imported) in the past, so I’m not sure whether FCA’s trade dress claims will really hold water.

    Reading the original agreement again, it is poorly worded but I am sure that Chrysler didn’t really intend to give Mahindra total carte blanche on all their future vehicles just as long as they used the redesigned grille.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Lawyer Fight!!! Scads of cash will be flung by both companies. Which begs to ask; does Tata have more money than FCA to throw at this? (scaddier? scaddiest?) or will FCA’s rolling ATM get a scratch or two?

  • avatar
    John Scott

    Regardless of the contracts about grilles and the number of slots – is there really much market overlap of the off-road only Roxor and the current Wrangler? Are ANY serious potential Wrangler buyers going to cross shop a Roxor? The biggest connection I have to the off-reading world is watching episodes of Dirt Everyday on the Motor Trend website (Fred and Dave crack me up!) so this is a fairly serious query. Unless the Roxor is complete junk and erodes people’s perceptions of the Wrangler, which I cannot asses – Wranglers look ok to me as vehicles but I have no first or second hand knowledge – last open Jeep I drove was an ancient flat fender CJ my younger brother thought about buying when we were teens. From my POV if Roxor are even reasonabley good as off-road only side by sides this would be a good thing for FCA – building a demand for one of their products you could drive on road as well.

  • avatar

    If you think that looks like a Jeep checkout the Asia Rocsta from the 1990s. That was road registerable and I don’t remember any complaints from Jeep.
    By the way, I once owned a Taiwanese scooter from the brand PGO. If you pronounce it quickly it sounds like Piaggio. It was a terrific little thing.

  • avatar

    Looks more like a Ford M151 than a current Jeep. Is Ford going to go after them next? Or AM General? I think the rights to the “Jeep-like” shape are so diluted that it would be a hard case to make.

  • avatar

    The problem is, they’re both right… and both wrong. Mahindra was given an unlimited license to build vehicles based on the original CJ-3 series of Jeeps by Jeep’s then-owners in the early- to mid-50s. While FCA now owns the Jeep brand, the license was never revoked by any previous Jeep brand owners. This could result in a very interesting fight.

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