Curbside Newsstand: Mahindra Dumps Controversial, Jeep-like Slats for 2020 Roxor

In the run up to a potentially devastating ruling, Mahindra has introduced a refreshed Roxor for the 2020 model year. The new front grille drops what was perhaps the most significant resemblance to Jeep: the five vertical slats between the headlights. It is unclear if Mahindra’s legal woes directly contributed to the change. But given the timing, it’s more than likely the reason for the tweak.

This is an extremely important year for Mahindra. The Indian automaker suffered a setback last November when an administrative law judge determined the Roxor did in fact violate Jeep’s “trade dress,” or the visual features that give a trademark product its distinct appearance. One of FCA’s primary grievances concerned the vertical slats, which can be seen in the picture above.

The grille represented one of several issues FCA had with the Roxor:

The case has many facets, but FCA was primarily concerned the Roxor uses six features – known as “trade dress” – that are distinctively Jeep. These include: exterior hood latches, “door cutouts above the bottom portion of the side body panels,” and a “boxy body shape with flat appearing vertical side and rear body panels ending at about the same height as the hood.”

Some of FCA’s concerns could be applied to other vehicles and seem far too broad to be considered legitimate violations. And as Mahindra previously pointed out, FCA repeatedly failed to demonstrate how the Roxor diluted their brand and they want the ability to define and redefine the Jeep trade dress based on their interpretation, not actual trademarks.

While the Indian automaker presents a compelling argument as to why they should be allowed to manufacture and sell the Roxor in the United States, the side-by-side is inextricably tied to Jeep, and even the CEO of Mahindra Automotive North America couldn’t state otherwise:

In a deposition, Mahindra Automotive North America CEO and President Rick Haas didn’t deny this as he said the Roxor “has the appearance of a [Jeep] CJ” and added the model “does look like a CJ.” He went onto claim the Roxor is “actually a CJ” and stated “everyone understands that our vehicle is a CJ.” However, he admitted “The CJ is a Jeep brand vehicle.”

The head of Mahindra’s American operations probably should have rehearsed a bit before being deposed. In any event, if the International Trade Commission rules that the Roxor violates Jeep’s trademark, it will likely be based on the idea that Jeep’s visual heritage cannot be fully extracted from Mahindra’s off-roader. That’s a reasonable conclusion based on FCA’s argument, but the Roxor’s specs clearly demonstrate its inability to compete with a modern Jeep product.

Top speed of 55 mph from 62 horsepower engine. Beyond the simple fact that the Roxor is not even street legal, there’s not much in these figures to suggest that a sane shopper would compare the Roxor to a Wrangler or Gladiator.

In any event, the ruling is expected to be issued soon, as the 60 day review period ends on March 13, 2020. An FCA victory will probably result in the Roxor’s demise. Mahindra is currently one of several automakers interested in building the next generation of postal carriers, so an unfavorable ruling might not be fatal. But it would deal a blow to the side-by-side market and enthusiasts looking for a unique off-road vehicle.