DaimlerChrysler and BMW are threatening legal action over Chinese-made vehicles that they claim are copies of their own models.

German chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in on the issue on Tuesday, describing plagiarism and copyright infringement in China as “a big problem” in a speech in Beijing.

DaimlerChrysler said it would consider unspecified legal action if Chinese carmaker Shuanghuan Automobile showed the Noble, which it says closely resembles its Smart Fortwo minicar, at next month’s Frankfurt motor show.

“We take intellectual property protection very seriously,” a DaimlerChrysler spokesman said. “We decided to reserve the right to pursue legal action.”

BMW said it was considering legal action against the importer of another Shuanghuan vehicle – the CEO – which it claims closely resembles a previous version of its X5 sports utility vehicle which was discontinued in 2006.

Shuanghuan and China Automobile Deutschland, the importer, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

“If suddenly a car turns up that looks like a Smart but isn’t one, but rather a copy produced by not entirely legal means, then that’s not good,” Ms Merkel said.

DaimlerChrysler, which following its sale of Chrysler is due to change its name to Daimler in October, has not elaborated on its legal plans, but the company is understood to have contacted Shuanghuan about the issue.

The German company last year succeeded in stopping another Chinese producer, CMEC from bringing to market another vehicle that closely resembled the Smart.

Global carmakers, including Germany’s, are seeking to entrench their positions in China – now the world’s second-largest vehicle market after the US – while seeking to protect and enforce their property rights.

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