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Chinese car firm files patent for an EV that's identical to the classic Mini


The classic Mini – one of Britain’s most iconic products of the last century – could be about to suffer from a case of stolen identity after patents filed by a Chinese brand revealed its plans to clone it and sell it as a new electric vehicle.

A Chinese automotive company has put forward documents showing a new compact battery-powered car – and it looks identical to the Mini’s original design penned by Alec Issigonis in the late 1950s.

It wouldn’t be the first time a Chinese company has pulled a copy-and-paste job on a existing model – and gotten away with it after complaints were raised by the manufacturers of the original knocked-off car.

BMW – Mini’s parent company – is reportedly priming itself to respond to the patent, with a spokesperson saying it is ‘examining legal action’ to protect the famous car design.

A new Chinese automotive company has filed patents for a compact battery-powered car - and it looks almost identical to the original Mini
The original Mini

Attack of the clones: A new Chinese automotive company has filed patents (left) for a compact battery-powered car – and it looks almost identical to the original Mini (right)

The patents were filed by a previously-unknown firm called Beijing Estech Technology, Car News China has revealed.

Details of the electric Mini rip-off are thin on the ground, though images show the familiar shape of the classic car with very little effort to make it appear different to the original. 

Closer inspection of the renders reveals there is no exhaust pipe in the drawings of the vehicle, hinting at the plans for it be a zero-emission car.

Car News China says it thinks the electric motor is located in the front the battery pack built into the floor for optimum weight distribution – as is the case with most EVs hitting the market in recent years. 

The leaked patent images will not amuse BMW, which has previously taken legal action against trademark infringements by Chinese brands – namely the Lifan Group and its Lifan 320, a Chinese supermini that closely resembled the modern-era Mini shape.

A spokesperson from Mini’s parent group told classic car website Hagerty that it is ‘examining legal action in connection with the targeted design protection of the classic Mini in China,’ but refused to comment any further on the subject. 

Launched in 1959 and designed by Alec Issigonis, the classic Mini revolutionised the automotive world and was produced at Oxford until 1968, before moving to Longbridge, near Birmingham, where it continued to be built until October 2000. 

Between 1959 and 2000 more than 5.3 million classic Minis were built. 

Patents have been filed by a previously-unknown firm called Beijing Estech Technology, Car News China revealed last week

Patents have been filed by a previously-unknown firm called Beijing Estech Technology, Car News China revealed last week

Apart from not having an exhaust, it's almost impossible to tell the render images filed with the patent from the classic Mini

A rear image provided in the patent

Apart from not having an exhaust, it’s almost impossible to tell the render images filed with the patent from the classic Mini

Sir Alec Issigonis created the original Mini in 1959. Between then and 2000 more than 5.3 million were built

Sir Alec Issigonis created the original Mini in 1959. Between then and 2000 more than 5.3 million were built

The leaked patents come after BMW earlier this year launched its own official ‘Recharged’ electric conversion service for the classic Minis.

For an undisclosed fee, the Cowley factory – which is where the current BMW-Mini is built – will replace the original car’s four-cylinder A-series engine with a powertrain of a 121bhp electric motor and battery. As a result it will accelerate to 62mph in 9 seconds and have a range of 99 miles.

While many will call it sacrilege, in stripping out the original car’s motor, Mini says it will number and store the engine and removed parts, so that cars can be returned to their internal combustion originality if requested at a later date.

Other brands are also offering aftermarket kits. One of these is Swindon Powertrains, which specialises in dedicated electric powertrains for customers with donor Minis who want to convert them into EVs. 

Details of the electric Mini rip-off are thin on the ground, though images show the familiar shape of the classic car with very little effort to make it appear different to the original
The original classic Mini

Details of the electric Mini rip-off (left) are thin on the ground, though images show the familiar shape of the classic car (right) with very little effort to make it appear different to the original

This is the prototype Mini project drawing by Alec Issigonis from 1958 that spawned one of Britain's most recognisable products of the century

This is the prototype Mini project drawing by Alec Issigonis from 1958 that spawned one of Britain’s most recognisable products of the century

The risk of taking on the Chinese copycat car makers 

If BMW does choose to take the legal route, it could be a drawn out affair without guaranteed victory.

In recent years there have been various cases of Chinese courts taking the side of its copycat car makers accused of replicating existing design, having successfully claimed their creations are unique.

Arguably the highest profile case of a Western motor manufacturer taking on a Chinese company who it believed cloned one of its cars is Jaguar Land Rover’s battle against Jiangling Motor Corporation – which had a happy ending for the British marque.

Jiangling Motor Corp had been producing an SUV called the X7 from 2015, which was almost a carbon copy of the Range Rover Evoque.

Landwind X7
Range Rover Evoque

Spot the difference: On the left is the Landwind X7 and on the right the previous-generation Range Rover Evoque. The latter has just won a legal case against the Chinese brand for copying its design

With the two vehicles side-by-side, it's easy to see why Land Rover took legal action
Until now, major manufacturers have lost legal cases as courts have tend to rule in favour of the Chinese copycat firms

With the two vehicles side-by-side, it’s easy to see why Land Rover took legal action. However, major manufacturers had previously lost legal cases as courts have tend to rule in favour of the Chinese copycat firms

Landwind X7
Range Rover Evoque

In previous copyright cases against Chinese brands, courts have backed home manufacturers and claimed their designs are different enough to legally pass as their own models. This latest result could set a precedent for other car makers to take the fight to copycat vehicle makers in Asia

Having taken legal action, JLR announced in 2019 that it had won the ‘significant’ case against the Chinese company after the Beijing Chaoyang District Court had decreed that the Evoque had five unique features that had been copied.

While the Evoque retailed for around £40,000 in China, its doppelganger has been on sale for half as much – around £14,000 – and had become a popular model in its home market.

As a result of the verdict, all sales, manufacturing and marketing of the Landwind vehicle were forced to cease with immediate effect.

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