When the wraps come off a new American supercar at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on 12 January, it is fair to assume there will be no applause from the Aston Martin stand.
Motor City will be the setting for a showdown between two of the car industry’s most bitter rivals: a brilliant Danish designer called Henrik Fisker – the creator of the $300,000 (£200,000) supercar – and Aston Martin, the luxury marque founded in 1913.
Mr Fisker joined Aston Martin in 2001 and was responsible for creating some of its most celebrated models including the V8 Vantage and DB9. He left three years later to start an eponymous electric car company – it went bankrupt – before returning to the luxury car market in 2013. Which is when the trouble started.
About a year ago, 52-year-old Mr Fisker unveiled a car called the Thunderbolt, a modified version of the Aston Martin Vanquish. Aston Martin’s lawyers got involved and the Thunderbolt bit the dust.
Mr Fisker went back to the drawing board and created a new design he called the Force 1. Billed as a relatively inexpensive, carbon fibre-built rival to exotic models from the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and, yes, Aston Martin, it seeks to combine the high performance of a track racer with the comfort of a luxury sedan.
The exact look of the new car was a closely guarded secret. Mr Fisker made reference to its “laser blade tail lamps” and “powerful, dramatic sculptural exterior”, but kept the prototype under wraps.
Late last year Mr Fisker released a rudimentary pen-on-paper sketch of the new car seen from above. It was circulated on car websites and forums, where more than one commentator noted a resemblance to … an Aston Martin.
On 23 December, Aston Martin sent a legal letter to Mr Fisker. It conceded that “we [Aston Martin] do not know what the final version of Fisker’s Force 1 vehicle will look like,” but said the sketch suggested the design was “strikingly similar” to several Aston Martin models. They included the DB10, created for the James Bond movie Spectre.
On 4 January, Mr Fisker responded. He sued Aston Martin for $100m in damages on the basis of “civil extortion” and asked the court to declare that his design did not infringe on Aston Martin’s copyrights.
Withdrawing the Force 1 from Detroit, his lawsuit argued, would subject him to “public humiliation, embarrassment in the industry and significant financial losses”.
Aston Martin said that Mr Fisker’s lawsuit is “without merit”, but refused to comment further.
In a statement issued from Detroit, where he intends to unveil his unmodified design on 12 January, Mr Fisker said Aston Martin’s claim that the sketch of the Force 1 looked “too Aston Martin” was “ridiculous”.
“Long hood, short cabin and pushed-out wheels has been around forever, since the dawn of sports cars,” he said.
“I am excited to have the media see what the next generation American supercar looks like, when it is unveiled in Detroit on Tuesday.”
Mr Fisker’s lawyer, Jonathan Michaels, admitted relations between his client and Aston Martin “are not the greatest right now” but said a showdown in Michigan was unlikely. He described Aston Martin’s demand that Mr Fisker either withdraw his car from Detroit or modify it substantially as “outrageous” because it was “based on a single sketch”.
“Frankly, the sketch could be any car,” Mr Michaels said. “The Force 1 has nothing to do with Aston Martin – it doesn’t look like an Aston Martin. It’s like Aston Martin going to Chevrolet and saying ‘you make a Corvette which is a front-engine car – don’t compete with us’.”
Production of the Force 1, which will be built in America, is expected to start in March or April. Mr Fisker plans to build about 50 cars a year.
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