Fiat's Panda model
During the legal process, Fiat presented four photos of the Peri model as part of the patent lawsuit in July 2007. Fiat admitted the photos were taken from a production plant without the Chinese automaker's approval.
Great Wall Motor asserted this meant Fiat could have sent people to secretly observe research development for the Peri and also steal business secrets. As a result of the infraction, Great Wall Motor requested a formal apology and compensation from Fiat for the violation.
Great Wall Motor also expressed concerns that Fiat may have taken other secret business-related information aside from the four Peri photos.
In late September this year, the Shijiazhuang Intermediate People's Court sent an indictment to Fiat's Shanghai office. The office declined to accept it, requiring the court to send the indictment to Fiat's Turin headquarters.
The relatively unknown Great Wall Motor's decision to go head-to-head against the Italian auto giant was based on simple economics—Fiat tried to block Peri's introduction to European consumers and Great Wall Motor took action to secure itself in a substantial auto market, said Shang Yugui, Director of Great Wall Motor's Publicity Department.
Analysts believe apart from brand recognition, the Peri is no less qualified than the Panda in terms of performance and comfort. More importantly, it is a much cheaper alternative to the Panda.
According to European Union laws, if Great Wall Motor wishes to export the Peri model to Europe, it will have to pay 15,000 euros ($22,255) per unit in compensation fees to Fiat.
"We didn't mean to make such a big deal of the situation," said Shang. "We just want to pave the way for Peri's introduction to Europe."
Great Wall Motor said its four other auto models have already won approval for sales in Europe.
Prior to the Great Wall Motor-Fiat controversy, a number of other Chinese automakers had confronted similar patent disputes: BYD's F3 for mimicking the Toyota Corolla; Chery's QQ for resembling the Chevrolet Spark; and Shuanghuan CEO's imitation of the BMW X5. But in the face of the disputes, most of the Chinese automakers kept their silence or sought reconciliation, making Great Wall Motor's decision not to back down more of a milestone.
"Learning lessons from past experiences, Chinese companies should try to protect their rights and interests by using legal weapons, especially when faced with cutthroat competition from multinational corporations," said Shang.
For as much harm as the legal action could have had against Great Wall Motor and its Peri model, the lawsuit has actually served as a major advertisement-like campaign for the Peri, boosting its brand recognition among consumers in both China and Europe, Shang said.