Is “Copying” the Key to Success?

Many say that the claim to fame for Chinese cars was the carbon-copy designs their automakers used to produce between 2003 and 2012. Later the Chinese went on to hire renowned European designers and started to roll out indigenous designs that are now acclaimed in key markets across the globe.

Like Chinese automakers, the Japanese were once accused by European and American car makers of blatantly copying their designs. Although the history of the Japanese car industry dates back to the early 1900s, their rise to glory came by the 1960s- particularly when they produced a flurry of cars that were either imitated or heavily inspired by Western designs.

Related: Naming Cars After Animals

Below we are sharing some examples where the West accuses Japanese automakers of imitating their popular models. Have a look:

1938 Nissan Type 70- a copy of the 1935 Graham Crusader

Eiichi Shimizu, a 60-plus year Nissan veteran, an expert on the company’s vehicular history, and the former secretary to the first president of Nissan and the man responsible for shepherding into existence some of the brand’s most beloved vehicles says the international automotive design has heavily influenced Nissan throughout its history, particularly in its first 5 decades, before Japanese were truly a part of the global market. According to Shimizu-san “Nissan looked up to America, to Italy for design.”

Eiichi Shimizu Nissan 1626x1000 1
Eiichi Shimizu, a 60-plus years old Nissan veteran

For its very first branded passenger car, Nissan wanted to team up with General Motors or Chrysler to create a stately vehicle for leaders in the Imperial military. Unfortunately, there was a bit of conflict brewing between the countries at the time. So the Japanese acquired tooling from a small Detroit automaker, in the form of the 1935 Graham Crusader. “The only thing Nissan designed on this car was the hood ornament,” Shimizu-san says.

1935 Graham Crusader and 1938 Nissan Type 70

1957 Prince Skyline Deluxe- a copy of the 1955 Chrysler New Yorker & 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air

Prince was an independent company before Nissan acquired it, and this was the marque’s first-ever Skyline-branded vehicle, the precursor to the Skyline GT-Rs that would help launch Japan into the enthusiast market. It has the look of a ¾ scale 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan, especially around the headlights and grille, but Shimizu-san points toward the rear: “Tail fins are 1955 Chrysler New Yorker.”

Prince Skyline with its inspirations

1960 Prince Skyway Van- a copy of the 1957 Chevrolet Nomad

Like other Prince/ Nissan cars, the 1960 Skyway van was heavily inspired by the 1957 Chevrolet Nomad. From the front grille and greenhouse to the swage line, even the body color options were taken from the Chevy.

Prince Skyway and Chevrolet Nomad

1960 Datsun Fairlady- a copy of the 1956 Chevrolet Corvette

Shimizu-san was also generous to point out, that its rounded nose and tail, denticle grille, bug-eyed headlamps, and contrasting coves make the Datsun Fairlady pretty much a shrunken copy of the 1956 Chevrolet Corvette.

1960 Datsun Fairlady & 1956 Chevrolet Corvette

1963 Prince Skyline Sports- a copy of the 1962 Chrysler Newport Coupe

With its diagonally oriented quad headlamps, the 1963 Prince Skyline Sports look suspiciously similar to the 1962 Chrysler Newport Coupe.

Prince Skyline with its inspiration- the Chrysler Newport Coupe

1973 Nissan Skyline GT-R- a copy of the 1970 AMC AMX

The first-generation Nissan Skyline GT-R looks pretty much like the American 1970 AMC AMX.

Nissan Skyline GTR and the AMC AMX

Toyota SA- a copy of the Volkswagen Beetle

But it wasn’t just Nissan which used to copy Western car designs. The 1947 Toyota SA was also a pure imitation of the classic VW Beetle which first surfaced in 1938. Not only this, even its interior was very much similar to the iconic German car.

Volkswagen Beetle was used as a true inspiration by Toyota to develop the SA in 1947.

Nissan Gloria- a copy of Pontiac Tempest

The Nissan Gloria A30 produced between 1967 and 1971 was a shrunken inspiration of the Pontiac Tempest saloon of the mid-1960s.

Nissan Gloria with its inspiration, the Pontiac Tempest

Mazda Luce- inspired by BMW E3

When debuted at the 1965 Tokyo Auto Show, the Mazda 1500 (also called Luce) was immediately noticed for its sharp styling, which looked reminiscent of the BMW E3 sedan of that era.

Mazda 1500 Luce and the BMW E3

Toyota MR-2, and the Porsche Boxter

The mid-engined Toyota MR-2 was quite an original car in the 1980s. However, when the third generation model arrived in 1999, the inspiration with Porsche Boxter became very much obvious.

Toyota MR-2 and the Porsche Boxter

Toyota Celica- and the Ford Mustang

The first generation Toyota Celica GT liftback was heavily inspired by the Ford Mustang of the late 1960s.

Toyota Celica and Ford Mustang

Daihatsu Mira Gino- and the Mini

And perhaps the most recent example is the Daihatsu Mira Gino, which is unmistakably inspired by the classic Mini.

Daihatsu Mira Gino and the Mini

Furthermore, in many other cases, part of a European or American vehicle design was copied by Japanese automakers. For example, headlights of the Toyota Tarrago were taken directly from the Peugeot 206 CC.

Peugeot 206 front 20090416

Similarly, the LED tail light pattern which the Suzuki Ciaz concept adorned was taken from the 2013 BMW M5 which debuted a couple of years before the Suzuki sedan.

ciaz led

It remains true that the biggest task for the Japanese to produce these “copy” designs in the early days was to scale them down since most American and European cars were too big in dimensions, still, the Japanese copy designs were more of an obvious imitation of the west rather than ditto replication. Chinese however took that to a different level by producing true replicas, thus redefining the term “copy”.

Related: Suzuki Ciaz or Honda City- Who Copied Whom?

So the question is, whether the act of copying should be considered the recipe for success for both Japanese and Chinese automakers. They say what the Japanese did in 40 years, the Chinese will achieve in less than 20 years. Perhaps because they have ‘mastered’ the art of copying? Well, what’s your say on the copying design trends in the global auto industry, let us know with your comments.

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