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Counterfeit BMW 5-Series kit is an easy sell in China

A grille kit for Brilliance, BMW's manufacturer in China, can turn a cheap sedan into a 5-Series.

By Clifford Atiyeh Mar 6, 2013 9:24AM
Copyright and international law aside, you've got to give Chinese knockoffs due credit for genuine effort.

The latest copycat car, not to be confused with factory models that explicitly copy BMW X5s, is a grille and badge job applied to a new Brilliance H530, a Chinese-market sedan designed by Pininfarina.

For $72, a Brilliance owner can buy a fake BMW kidney grille, eight real BMW roundels and a "523i" nameplate that installs in minutes. The roundels replace the wheel caps, the steering wheel badge and even the Brilliance logo on the engine cover. At first glance, it's surprisingly convincing, even with fake M graphic stripes painted on the hood.

The price of the car itself? Just $13,000 to $20,000. A real BMW 523Li -- the standard 523i isn't sold in China -- costs nearly $70,000.

It may not be a coincidence. Brilliance has been building the BMW 5-Series in China since the two automakers signed a joint venture agreement in 2003. Special long-wheelbase versions of compact and midsized cars, such as the BMW 335Li and 535Li, are sold only in China. And the H530, both in phonetics and appearance, starts off well enough as a fake 5-Series.

Brilliance H530
Apparently, the Chinese website Taobao has counterfeit car kits from "hundreds of other small shops," according to Tycho de Feyter, a Beijing-based blogger for

Brilliance H530 fake BMW kit (c)
BMW told MSN Autos it is trying to stop the kits from bring sold.

"We take this seriously and do not want to have fakes in the market," said Kai Lichte, a BMW spokesman in Germany.

But Chinese automakers and parts suppliers are usually not deterred by legal threats. In 2007, BMW fought the Shuanghuan CEO from appearing at the Frankfurt Motor Show, but lost a European court case against the company in 2008. Highlighting China's flagrant disregard for property rights, many other automakers have tried and lost legal cases against Chinese copycat cars.

In the U.S., the worst BMW counterfeit offenses are people sticking M badges on the backs of standard X5s and 3-Series, which ends up fooling no one. Casual observers don't know what M even means, and real BMW owners can spot a real M car a mile away. But in China, a BMW knockoff can stand a chance of gaining respect.

For more photos of this fake BMW transformation, head over to The Truth About Cars.

[Source: The Truth About Cars; Photos via]

This story was updated Thursday to include BMW's comment.
Mar 6, 2013 11:30AM

"In the U.S., the worst BMW counterfeit offenses are people sticking M badges on the backs of standard X5s and 3-Series, which ends up fooling no one. "


Up here in Alaska, truck country, I see a lot of people switching out their standard GMC Sierra grills for Denali grills and adding chrome door handles.  Or slapping a Harley Davidson badge on their F150 tailgate.  Again, fooling no one.

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