Honda has filed an intellectual property lawsuit in Beijing against China's Hebei Shuanghuan Auto Co. alleging that its RABO S-RV model is a copy of Honda's CR-V small SUV, according to Automotive News Europe (ANE).

Honda reportedly approached the Chinese automaker in September of 2003 after reviewing the promotional material and, after receiving no response, filed the lawsuit in November, but the case did not receive publicity until this week.

ANE said Honda last year exported 4,475 CR-Vs to China, where they sell for about 325,000 yuan or $39,250 at current exchange rates. Local assembly by a joint venture with Dongfeng Motor Corp. begins soon.

The RABO S-RV was introduced in October 2003. It is priced at about $12,000, ANE said.

But the lawsuit is not necessarily motivated by the fact that a locally made version will soon be on the market here, a Honda spokesman told Automotive News Europe. "We just want to make it clear that we want to protect our intellectual property rights," he said.

ANE noted that other foreign carmakers have taken Chinese companies to court with little success. Toyota Motor Co. in November 2003 lost a trademark infringement case against domestic carmaker Geely Group while General Motors is reportedly still considering a case against SAIC Chery Automobile Co., whose QQ model closely resembles the Chevrolet Spark produced at SAIC-GM-Wuling.

Automotive News Europe said copying entire vehicles is rare in China, but counterfeiting spare parts is rampant.