Chinese auto companies may have a bad reputation for ripping off car designs from other companies and other countries, but this is far from a new phenomenon in the motor industry.
Japanese car manufacturers also borrowed heavily from their European and American counterparts when their auto industry was getting off the ground, and even the great German car manufacturers like BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have been known to take inspiration from each other.
While there are many US consumers who like to buy American-made cars, the country’s domestic auto industry was miles behind their European and even their Japanese rivals for most of the 1980s. Recently, the performance and style of American cars have improved, to the point where more people are choosing to buy Ford, Chrysler, and Chevy models, but how have those US companies achieved this remarkable turnaround?
By ripping off foreign cars, of course! Sometimes the theft is very difficult to spot, with car makers borrowing just a few details or features in order to improve their own vehicles. Sometimes the fake is almost a carbon copy of the original – a brazen act of industrial espionage on a level with the Chinese firms who have ended up in court over their copycat designs.
Check out the list below of 15 American vehicles which have totally got away with ripping off ideas from foreign-made cars.
15 Chrysler 300 – Bentley Flying Spur
Bentley is one of the most prestigious names in motoring, a well-established British name and the creator of some of the most luxurious cars in the world. While Bentley cars used to be a common sight at palaces and country homes of the UK aristocracy, in more recent years a very different crowd has taken to buying themselves increasingly expensive luxury cars: celebrities. Everyone from rappers to sports stars have been pictured driving around in their Bentleys – but with prices starting at $240,000, not everyone can afford to drive like the stars.
However, if you’re satisfied with driving around in a Bentley rip-off, there is a cheaper alternative out there – the Chrysler 300.
From the front, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the Chrysler 300 and the Bentley Flying Spur, although when you look at the price tag, there is quite a contrast. The Chrysler 300, after all, only costs around $30,000 for the most basic version. There are some significant differences between the two vehicles, most notably in the very comfortable and luxurious interior of the more expensive version, but anyone who tries to tell you that Chrysler wasn’t “inspired” by the classic Bentley design is seriously misguided.
14 Ford Fusion - Aston Martin DB9 and DB7
Sometimes car makers steal whole vehicles from their competitors, as with the Chrysler 300 and the Bentley Flying Spur; other times, an auto company will pick one design feature that they really like, and adapt it for their own models. Ford did just that with the grille on its Fusion, which had previously made an appearance on Aston Martin’s DB9 and DB7 models. But is this a straightforward case of Ford copying an Aston Martin design, or is there something more complicated going on here?
Aston Martin’s head of design, and the man behind many of the car’s most impressive features – including that impressive grille – is Ian Callum, and the vice president of design at Ford is a man called Moray Callum. The two men are brothers and have worked together on previous projects. Perhaps they had previously discussed the ideal for the Aston Martin grille, which is how Ford ended up using the same feature; perhaps it was a case of brothers being brothers, and always wanting what the other one has. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that the two grilles are almost interchangeable, and there has to have been some element of copying, or at least borrowing, going on.
13 Tesla Model S - Aston Martin DB9
Tesla is another relatively new name in US motoring – though they at least seem to be making a bigger success of their fledgling automotive enterprise than Fisker! World leaders in creating some of the most beautiful and technologically-advanced electric powered vehicles, Tesla are renowned for the innovation and unique ideas. So surely they haven’t been caught stealing ideas from foreign car companies? Well, I’m afraid Tesla is yet another firm which has ended up borrowing heavily from Aston Martin’s own innovative design team.
The shape of the Tesla Model S, Tesla’s high-end luxury saloon car, is pretty familiar to anyone who has driven an Aston Martin DB9.
Add into the mix that the shape of the grilles on the two cars is also almost identical has led to many fans of both Tesla and Aston Martin vehicles speculating that the designers at Tesla are probably big James Bond fans! However, Aston Martin may have the last laugh in this little battle, as the luxury British brand is planning to bring out its own electric vehicle called the RapidE in 2019, with the chief executive of Aston Martin claiming it is set to be better than anything Tesla has ever produced.
12 Chrysler 300C - Rolls Royce Ghost
We have already seen that the Chrysler 300 is a rip-off of the Bentley Flying Spur, but there are also elements of another classic British car in the Chrysler 300C, the top-of-the-line version of Chrysler’s luxury sedan. The 300C is slightly bigger than the Chrysler 300, and has a boxier shape, making it look more like the Rolls Royce Ghost than the Bentley Flying Spur; not a bad couple of cars to take your inspiration from mind you!
Yet again, for all the similarities between the Chrysler 300C and the Rolls Royce Ghost, the main difference between the two vehicles is in the price; the Chrysler version costs just $40,000 while a Rolls Royce Ghost will set you back more than $300,000. When it comes to these two vehicles, the likeness isn’t just in the boxy shape of the bodywork, but also in the remarkably alike grille shape and headlights. If a Chrysler 300C and a Rolls Royce Ghost were driving towards you at night, chances are you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Despite the uncanny resemblance, we’re unlikely to see the British Royal Family driving around on Chrysler 300Cs instead of their usual Rolls Royces any time soon.
11 Ford Explorer Platinum – Land Rover Range Rover
Back to stealing from the UK now, and a brand which is about as British as they come: Land Rover. Land Rover’s vehicle has been part of the fabric of British country life for decades, beloved even by Queen Elizabeth when she’s ion her country estates. The Land Rover Range Rover is the company’s flagship car, launched in 1970 as an early SUV, and now almost unrecognizable from the stripped back model of the early years.
These days, Range Rovers are as much about luxury as they are about off-roading, and Ford took that message very much to heart when they designed the Ford Explorer Platinum, their own take on the luxury SUV market which was first made in 1990.
There are more than a few similarities between the Ford Explorer Platinum and the modern Land Rover Range Rover, particularly around the front of the car, where the hoods are similar shapes, and the “new” rectangular grille on the Ford looks like it has been lifted right off the Land Rover model. Admittedly, the similarities between these two SUVs do fade the closer you get, but from a few feet away, you could be forgiven for mixing them up completely.
10 Lincoln Continental – Bentley Flying Spur
The battle between US car company Lincoln and British motoring royalty Bentley over their respective Continental and Flying Spur models is probably one of the most high-profile examples of an automotive rip-off in recent years. This is not only because the rip-off is so obvious and so blatant, but also because the designers of the two vehicles ended up getting involved in a very public spat on social media over the alleged plagiarism. Bentley’s chief designer Luc Donckerwolke took to Facebook when he first saw images of the 2016 Lincoln Continental from the New York Auto Show, to rant about the uncanny similarities between Lincoln’s new luxury model and his own Bentley Flying Spur. He even sent a public message to Lincoln’s designer David Woodhouse, asking if Lincoln wanted Bentley to “send the product tooling” – the implication being that Lincoln had copied parts so directly that they would be interchangeable with the ones on Bentley’s own car.
Adding to the spat between the two firms is the fact that Bentley also has its own Continental model; although given that Lincoln launched their first Continental in the 1930s, compared the 1984 Bentley Continental, the US firm has the upper hand in that dispute.
9 Buick Regal – Mazda 6
Buick is a well-established name in American motoring, but their vehicles are not generally known for their exciting and innovative design. Which is why everyone was surprised to see the result when Buick announced that it was relaunching its Regal model in 2011. The Buick Regal that had been first made in 1973 was a typical boxy American sedan; the car which was unveiled in 2011 was a curvy delight, much more reminiscent of Japanese luxury sedans than anything which had been seen in Buick dealerships.
In fact, there were some who claimed that it didn’t just generally look more like Japanese cars but actually looked very like a particular Japanese model – the Mazda 6.
It’s not as much of a rip-off as some of the copies in this list – more of an homage to the beauty of Japanese car design – but there is no denying that you can see the familiar lines of the Mazda 6 in the bodywork of the new Buick Regal, while there is a definite similarity between the grille design of the two vehicles. Given that car companies seem to be borrowing from each other all the time, why shouldn’t Buick copy from one of the most successful car designers of the last 20 years?
8 1986 Ford Taurus – Audi 5000
In the1970s and 1980s, the US auto industry was in the doldrums. Domestic car manufacturers just didn’t seem able to compete with the cheap but reliable Japanese cars or the high-end luxury models from Germany. So what did Ford do when in they were developing their new mid-size car, the Ford Taurus, in the early 1980s? They took a good, long look at the competition, figured out what consumers liked in each of the cars, and then stole all the best ideas.
The team behind the Ford Taurus wanted to make a high-end car that would challenge the dominance of Germany’s big three auto companies, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, when it came to selling luxury cars in the States. Engineers seemed to take their biggest inspiration from the Audi 5000, which was an almost perfect match for the Ford Taurus in terms of dimensions, although there were definitely aspects of the successful Honda Accord in Ford’s new creation too. It seems that Ford simply took a list of the best cars of the mid-1980s – a list which included the Audi 5000 and Honda Accord – and cherry-picked some of their favorite ideas from each, before combining them in one car; the 1986 Ford Taurus.
7 Cadillac Seville - 1940s Rolls Royce
The luxury American cars of the 1970s were big. Very big. So big, in fact, that modern drivers would probably struggle to get them in a parking space and they certainly wouldn’t fit in our garages at home. They may have been oversized and a little unwieldy, but these cars certainly had a lot of style. It’s just a shame that they stole most of it from vintage Rolls Royces.
Both the Chrysler Imperial and the Cadillac Seville boasted a design feature known in motoring circles as the bustle-back.
This was the name given to the over-exaggerated rear end of the car, which created additional room for the rear passengers and forced the trunk to stand out a little from the bodywork of the car. It was a very typical look for American luxury cars of the 1970s, but aficionados of vintage vehicles knew that they had seen this feature somewhere before – most notably on the classic Rolls Royce cars and Daimler limousines which were being produced in the 1940s. Still, if an American car company is going to copy from anyone, they may as well copy from the most prestigious car maker in the world, when they were at their peak.
6 Ford Granada – Mercedes 280 SE
First made in 1975, the Ford Granada was a mid-size car made for the North American market until 1982. For readers in Europe, the Ford Granada you guys had was a very different kind of vehicle; in fact, the only things the two cars had in common was the name and the Ford branding. When the US version of the Ford Granada was first created, it was designed to put up a bit of local competition to the high-end German vehicles which had just started to sell increasingly well on the domestic American market.
After all, Ford had been the king of the US motoring industry for decades, and they weren’t about to give up their crown without a fight! On the end, they decided that if you can’t beat them, join them, and made the Ford Granada as Mercedes-like as they possibly could without ending up in court. Ford even rather cheekily played up the similarities between their 1978 Ford Granada and the Mercedes 280 SE in a TV commercial from the time, when viewers were invited to see if they could tell when the car on screen was the Ford and when it was actually the much more expensive Mercedes.
5 Chrysler 200 – Audi A4
The new Chrysler 200, launched in 2015, was agreed by most observers to be a vast improvement on the Chrysler 200s which had gone before – including the 2011 model which we have already seen in this list for ripping off ideas from the Hyundai Sonata. The new and improved Chrysler 200 was an altogether more grown-up and stylish car – and why not, seeing as it had lifted a number of external design ideas from major German competitor Audi, particularly their Audi A4 luxury saloon.
Perhaps Chrysler was just getting their revenge on Audi for when the German company had earlier stolen their idea for an advert – including the Eminem song “Lose Yourself” which the artist had only allowed Chrysler to use for their “Imported from Detroit” Superbowl ad and marketing campaign for the first Chrysler 200. The rap star ended up taking Audi to court for using the song without his permission, never mind the fact that the images used in the two commercials were eerily similar. In these circumstances, it is possible that Chrysler executives felt they were entitled to borrow a little of Audi’s design creativity, seeing as they had provided them with a whole storyboard for a TV advert!
4 Chevy Cruze – Kia Forte5
Japan and South Korea are the masters of the compact car, so it won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that American motoring manufacturers have been looking to the Far East for inspiration when making their own compacts and hatchbacks. The new Chevy Cruze, which was launched in 2016, bears a remarkable similarity to the Kia Forte5, while previous models have also been compared to the Honda Civic and even the Volkswagen Jetta.
The current Chevy Cruze looks almost identical to the Kia Forte5 in profile, while a glance at the rear of the vehicle suggests that Chevy has simply lifted Kia’s headlights design to use for themselves.
An earlier version of the Chevy Cruze didn’t just borrow heavily from the popular Volkswagen Jetta in a bid to boost its sales; they decided that only German engineering under the hood was good enough for their hatchback, and simply lifted a 2-liter turbocharged engine from Opel’s factory in Kaiserslautern. Not quite as blatant a rip off as it seems, as in reality both Opel and Chevrolet are owned by the same company: General Motors. Not too long ago, the idea of American cars using engines from anywhere else would have seemed far-fetched and unlikely.
3 Ford Edge - Range Rover Evoque
The Range Rover Evoque has become one of the most popular luxury SUVs on the market – everyone from Hollywood celebs to soccer moms and even the British Royal Family have been seen behind the wheel of this robust but stylish vehicle. Given the Evoque’s success, you might say it is unsurprising that other car manufacturers have taken a few leaves from Range Rover’s book when it comes to creating their own high-end SUVs. Take the front end of the two 2018 models.
While the Range Rover Evoque’s design has a little more flow compared to the boxy Ford Edge, there is nevertheless a remarkable similarity in the shape, and the headlamps on the Ford Edge are a carbon copy of those on the Range Rover Evoque. The Ford Edge isn’t even a cheap knock-off Range Rover, selling for $40,000, around the same price as a basic model Evoque. When you look at the complicated ownership history of the two companies, however, the shared design features start to make sense. Indian company Tata Motors currently owns Jaguar Land Rover, the creators of the Range Rover Evoque. And from which American firm did they buy the company in 2008? Ford, of course!
2 Ford Troller - Toyota FJ Cruiser
While the Ford Troller is made by the most American of auto companies, it was actually designed and built for the Brazilian market, where heavy-duty SUVs, which look like they belong in the military, are big sellers. The Troller has borrowed heavily from a number of other off-road SUVs, including the equally American Jeep Wrangler and also an early Ford Bronco model, but there are also clear indications that the Japanese Toyota FJ Cruiser was a source of inspiration for the Ford Troller designers.
Troller was the name of the formerly independent Brazilian company which made the vehicle until it was bought by Ford in 2007. Since then, Ford has revamped and relaunched the vehicle, taking their influence from the classic Toyota FJ Cruiser.
The FJ Cruiser may only have been launched in 2006, but it is designed to have the look and feel of the old FJ40, production of which ended in 1984. There are some clear similarities between the bodywork of the two vehicles, especially around the grille; although there are some observers who would argue that there are few differences between any of the SUVs which have been designed along the lines of the original military jeeps.
1 Ford Mondeo - Audi A5
The Mondeo is one of Ford’s most successful vehicles, in production around the world since 1992. With prices starting at $33,000, it is significantly cheaper than the Audi A5, the car which Ford was very obviously inspired by when designing the Mondeo. The Audi A5 is a stylish luxury sedan, with a price tag of $42,000; one of those well-engineered and well-made German high-end cars which have caused so many difficulties for US domestic auto companies over the years. The Ford Mondeo may have more of a reputation as a solid and steady family car, rather than a sleek coupe, but that didn’t stop the 2014 versions of both cars looking uncannily similar – especially from the side.
Not only does the shape of the two vehicles look almost identical from side-on, but the Ford Mondeo has also stolen another aspect of its design from another European car maker. Yes, the Mondeo is one of the Ford models which has borrowed the iconic Aston Martin grille from the British company. Ford may have started out as one of the most innovative auto companies, but like all other US car makers, they have found themselves increasingly using ideas which have already seen the light of day on vehicles made by their European and Asian competitors.
Sources: automobilemag.com, epi.org, autocar.co.uk, driving.ca, autoblog.com, jalopnik.com