SpicyIP Tidbits: Chrysler-Mahindra in Jeep-fight

Auto major Chrysler’s South African arm has complained against a local ad run by Mahindra & Mahindra, which uses its automobile marquee “jeep”, saying it owns the trademark to the world’s oldest sport utility vehicle of World War II vintage.

An agency report on Sify says that “The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (Asasa) is looking at the matter even as Mahindra and Mahindra says it used “jeep” with a lower case to denote the generic name for the kind of multi-purpose vehicles it makes.”

In response, Mahindra & Mahindra in South Africa has reportedly brought out a full-page counter-advertisement providing a “Public Declaration of Facts”, defending the content and accuracy of its original ads, stating that it does NOT lay claim to the Jeep brand. Instead, it says that the original commercials were only meant to introduce South African consumers to the iconic (sic) Indian brand.

Now, I haven’t been keeping track of developments in the auto sector, but I recall some reports not too long ago of Mahindra contemplating an Indian partnership with Chrysler, specifically for its Jeep brand, either via an equity-split, or through a manufacturing collaboration. This came close on the heels of the Indian company having abandoned its proposed Chennai-based JV with Nissan-Renault.

In fact, the Mahindra-Chrysler relationship dates back some decades: Mahindra was once the Indian distributor for Chrysler jeeps, and its own earliest products were manufactured on the iconic Willys Jeep platform (now part of the Chrysler group). In this context, it seems like there might be something below the surface that this South Africa report has not quite caught on to. Is this just a (highly unlikely) case of miscommunication between the company HQs and their regional subsidiaries? Or is there trouble brewing between the two companies, and are Mahindra’s foreign associations jinxed yet again?


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