The original Willys Jeep inspired the creation of quite a few iconic off-roaders. Not just the Jeep Wrangler and its CJ predecessors, but the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser, the original Land Rover, and Nissan Patrol. The original Jeep design was so popular, Mitsubishi even built a licensed version of it. Unfortunately, one company’s decision to invoke the spirit of Willys landed it in legal hot water. The 2018 Mahindra Roxor off-roader was so similar to the Willys Jeep, that in 2019, FCA filed a lawsuit against it.
What is the Mahindra Roxor?
The Mahindra Roxor, Jalopnik explained, isn’t an on-road SUV. Instead, it’s a side-by-side, a multi-seat ATV with a removable roof. However, unlike other side-by-sides, the Roxor has a steel frame bolted to a steel frame.
Like today’s Jeep Wrangler, the Mahindra Roxor has solid axles front and rear, albeit attached to leaf springs. Also, like the Wrangler, it has a two-speed transfer case. The Roxor is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel, linked to either a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. The engine makes 62 hp and 144 lb-ft and lets the Roxor go up to 55 mph.
It’s not fast, especially considering the 3,035-lb curb weight. But if equipped with the optional hub lockers, the Mahindra Roxor can 55 mph while towing 3490 pounds. That’s only 10 pounds less than the diesel Jeep Wrangler, according to Autoweek.
And it’s not like the Roxor is sacrificing off-road capability to do this. It has 9” of ground clearance: slightly more than the latest Suzuki Jimny, and only 0.5” less than the Mercedes G-Class. And like the Jimny, the Roxor uses its small size to its advantage. The Mahindra is roughly 1.5’ shorter than the current Wrangler, according to Jalopnik, and 11” narrower.
Jalopnik found the Roxor to be slightly less capable than an original Willys Jeep, to be fair. Despite approach and departure angles similar to the WWII Jeep, the Roxor did beach itself several times during testing. Luckily, the side-by-side comes with a transfer case skid plate and an armored fuel tank. Jalopnik, however, did find the Roxor’s engine and transmission to be much more refined and better-controllable during off-road testing. It also has power steering and brakes, unlike the Willys.
Is the Mahindra Roxor that much like the Willys Jeep?
Analyzing the Roxor and Willys Jeep, Jalopnik found that externally, the Roxor is a closer match to a CJ Jeep. It even has a similar slatted grille, although it only has 5 slats, not 7. Mechanically, though, the Mahindra Roxor does share quite a few things with the Willys.
The suspension, leaf springs with solid axles, is very similar. The Roxor’s axles are actually an evolution of the Willys’ original Dana units. Its transfer case is also an evolution of a Jeep design. In fact, Jalopnik reports that several Willys parts are interchangeable with the Roxor.
However, there are some significant differences between the two. The Roxor’s front brakes are discs, not drums. Its suspension, although very similar, is more like a CJ Jeep, as is the steering design. And the Roxor’s engine and transmission are not related in any way to any Jeep units.
But there is actually a very good reason for these similarities. As Jalopnik, The Drive, and Motor1 have explained, Mahindra has had a license to build Jeeps for over 70 years. In fact, its license predates Mitsubishi’s, according to Jalopnik. The Roxor is actually based on the Thar, one of these licensed versions. Mahindra even used a Willys Jeep as a comparison to the Roxor in some of its ads.
So, if Mahindra had the rights to Jeep designs, why did FCA sue the company?
The FCA-Mahindra lawsuit broken down
Jalopnik reported that FCA felt some of the Roxor’s design features infringed on Jeep’s “distinctive…vehicle trade dress.” Basically, FCA felt that things like external hood latches, a boxy design, and that slotted grille (never mind the number of slots) were too much like a Jeep’s. The lawsuit also noted that Mahindra had no permission or right to use a Willys Jeep, even in name, in its Roxor advertisements.
Eventually, according to Jalopnik and Carscoops, a US International Trade Commission Administrative Law Judge ruled that Mahindra had indeed upon FCA’s trade dress. At that point, the US ITC also issued the stop-sale on the Roxor, and also prevented new models from being imported.
However, in a later press release, Mahindra fired back. Although a Mahindra rep, in court, had admitted the Roxor was very like a CJ, the company also noted that FCA hasn’t sold a CJ or Willys Jeep in decades. Also, the Roxor was never going to be a Wrangler competitor, because it isn’t on-road-legal. In addition, while Mahindra is an Indian company, the Roxor was designed and built in Michigan.
Furthermore, Mahindra also noted that, until this case, FCA hadn’t explicitly stated what the “Jeep trade dress” actually was. Instead, to quote Mahindra, “at trial, FCA admitted that it believes it can define and redefine its ‘Jeep Trade Dress’ depending on the product it is challenging.” Essentially, Mahindra was worried that FCA could theoretically tailor any aspect of Jeep design into something to sue over.
What’s going on with the Mahindra Roxor now?
Right now, although the stop-sale went ahead, the ITC is reviewing the case, Jalopnik and The Drive reported, with that trade dress issue quoted as one of the factors. Nevertheless, to try and mitigate any potential future complications, Mahindra did redesign the Roxor for the 2020 model year.
The exterior design hasn’t changed much: it’s still boxy, with external hood latches. However, Mahindra redesigned the grille. Instead of tall vertical slots, it’s got many smaller horizontal ones. And instead of being body-colored, it’s black.
The Drive and Jalopnik did point out that the Roxor now resembles the FJ40 Land Cruiser somewhat. However, considering the FJ40 started out as a Jeep copy, with a name inspired by the Land Rover, I think Toyota will let it slide. Or at least, realize that Mahindra isn’t competing with Land Cruiser sales.
At the moment, the redesigned 2020 Mahindra Roxor is on sale, with a starting price of $16,599. Given that it’s not road-legal, that might seem slightly expensive. But, while we can’t legally say it’s like a brand-new Willys Jeep, it definitely allegedly kind of is.
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