Take a close look at the image. A court in Italy has just ruled that the crossover pictured above, the five-seat CEO built by Shuanghuan Automobile of Shijiazhuang, China, is not a clone of the BMW X5. Um... yeah. The legal battles began when Shuanghuan introduced their "Noble" last year, a near-clone of the Smart fortwo. Mercedes-Benz wasn't impressed, and threatened a lawsuit. Shortly thereafter, BMW started losing sleep over the Chinese CEO, an obvious facsimile of their previous-generation X5 (E53). The Bavarian automaker took Shuanghuan to court in Munich this past summer and won their case, and when Martin Motors (the distributor of Shuanghuan Automobiles in Italy and central Europe) started selling the CEO in early 2007, BMW again took legal action, this time in the Italian judicial system.

Last week, the Germans met their defeat when the Italian courts rejected their claims. To date, Martin Motors has sold about 200 copies of the CEO and expects to sell about 1200 this year in their European markets. "We are convinced the CEO wasn't a clone of the X5. We are happy to see our view supported by a court ruling," said an obviously pleased spokesperson from Martin Motors. We have to wonder how quickly the Italians would change their tune if Shuanghuan began to knock-off the Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4.

[Source: Automotive News, subs. req'd]