Indian automaker faces Jeep patent complaint

Mahindra's Roxor utility vehicle made in Michigan.

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    Roxors are seen at Mahindra Automotive North America in Auburn Hills, Mich, in March.

    The Blade
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  • A line of Mahindra's Roxor off-road vehicles made at its plant in Auburn Hills, Mich.
    A line of Mahindra's Roxor off-road vehicles made at its plant in Auburn Hills, Mich.

    India’s Mahindra Ltd. said on Wednesday that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S. LLC filed a patent violation complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission against Mahindra’s Roxor off-roader vehicle.

    In the complaint, certain design features of Mahindra's off-road utility vehicle Roxor infringed upon intellectual property rights of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Jeep design, Mahindra said in a statement reported by Reuters. Mahindra said the complaint was “without merit.”

    Based on a Blade visit in March to the Mahindra Automotive North America plant in Auburn Hills, Mich., where the Roxor is made, the Roxor had some of the same design attributes as an older Jeep Wrangler.

    WATCH: Interview with Rick Haas, President and CEO of Mahindra Automotive North America

    From its round headlamps and flat fenders to its torquey four-cylinder engine and no nonsense simplicity, the Roxor was like an old-school Jeep, The Blade article said last spring. The vehicle is meant to help out on the farm, get sportsmen to their hunting and fishing grounds, and give recreational off-road enthusiasts another toy for the sandbox.

    The Roxor, which debuted in March and has a starting price of $15,500, is not street legal. A top Mahindra official told The Blade that the company sees the off-roader as a foothold for establishing the brand but doesn’t plan to compete with Jeep vehicles.

    Unlike most other similar non-street ready utility vehicles, the Roxor is built on a fully boxed steel frame and has an all-metal body. Traditionally such vehicles are built around a tubular frame and have plastic body panels. The Roxor also has a larger, 2.5-liter four-cylinder diesel engine, an automotive-style five-speed manual transmission, and a true two-speed transfer case offering four-wheel-drive in high and low range. And it has traditional solid axles front and rear riding on old-school leaf springs.

    Mahindra was one of the first firms that Toledo-based Willys (which made the original Jeep Wranglers) granted a licensing agreement to make a variant of the post-war civilian Jeep. Mahindra began producing the vehicle in 1949 and never really stopped. The company was still building CJ-3B Wrangler derivatives well into the 21st Century.

    In its marketing materials for the Roxor in March, there was no references to Jeep and the Roxor does not have the Wrangler’s most signature styling feature — a seven-slot grille.

    Mahindra officials said in March that its Auburn Hills plant can build about 10,000 Roxors annually, but wasn’t making that many yet.

    A spokesman for Fiat Chrysler, Jeep's parent company, declined in March to comment on the Roxor or the Fiat Chrysler licensing agreement with Mahindra.

    The India company, based in Mumbai, and its unit Mahindra Automotive North America have filed a public interest statement with the U.S. International Trade Commission and have begun proceedings in a Michigan court to enforce a design agreement that it had executed with Fiat Chrysler in 2009.

    Mahindra is also seeking an injunction against Fiat Chrysler from proceeding with the complaint, it added.

    Fiat Chrysler had not made a monetary claim in the complaint but has sought a permanent restraining order over Mahindra from importing parts or components into the United States that infringe upon its intellectual property rights, the statement from Mahindra said.