Last week at the Shanghai auto show, Land Rover was coming to terms with selling the Range Rover Evoque alongside its half-priced Chinese clone, the Land Wind X7.
Not to be outdone, Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co. unveiled its own version of a western SUV, opting for the classic Mercedes-Benz G class.
The relationship between Daimler AG and BAIC differs from that between Jaguar Land Rover and Jiangling Holding Co., the parent company of Land Wind, which cribbed the Evoque's design.
For one thing, Daimler owns a 12 percent stake in BAIC Motor Corp., and last month BAIC Motor announced plans to take a 35 stake in Mercedes-Benz Leasing Co., which is Daimler's Chinese subsidiary that leases vehicles to businesses and private owners in mainland China and its territories.
Still, Mercedes executives in Stuttgart reportedly were unhappy when BAIC started planning the SUV in 2011. Carnewschina.com reports that when the Mercedes execs learned of the project, they tried to get BAIC to back off, though it appears that BAIC still got its way.
The BJ80C's resemblance to the G-Wagen is there, right down to the interior design, but don't expect a big, beefy V-8 under the hood -- the BJ80C will have 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 4.0-liter six-cylinder gasoline engines on offer.
The BJ80C is longer than the four-door G-Wagen available in other markets, with the BAIC version featuring a 110-inch wheelbase compared with the G-Wagen's 94.5-inch wheelbase.
From the side, it is evident that the BJ80C's rear doors are longer and side windows of the cargo section are smaller than those of the G class.
If the BJ80C makes a good impression of the G class from the sides, the front and rear fascias are where the BAIC version can claim that it's less of a direct copy of the G class than the Land Wind X7 is of the Evoque.
The front fascia features a vertical grille with four bars but retains the large, round headlights, while the rear fascia goes for fairly conventional vertical taillights that look like they came from a commercial truck parts bin.
The large spare tire with a chrome ring is clearly inspired by the Mercedes SUV.
How close of a copy is this? If the two vehicles were parked side by side, we figure we'd be able to distinguish the BJ80C from the G-Wagen from about 250 yards. But with the help of city smog and the cover of darkness, the breaking point may be inside 100 yards.
A question remains: How affordable will the BJ80C be when it goes on sale? With the premium that Mercedes vehicles command in China, this may end up being a spectacular deal compared with the G-Wagen.
Look for the military version of BJ80C at the next People's Liberation Army parade.