SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – Famed auto designer Henrik Fisker filed a $100 million civil extortion lawsuit against Aston Martin, claiming the British automaker baselessly threatened to sue him for copyright infringement to stall his return to the luxury sports car industry.
Fisker sued Aston Martin Lagonda, its CEO Andy Palmer, Director of Global Marketing Simon Sproule, and design director Marek Reichman in Federal Court on Monday.
“We feel that this is a situation where Aston Martin is terribly threatened by Henrik Fisker,” Fisker’s attorney Jonathan Michaels told Courthouse News in an interview.
“Aston Martin does not own the market for high-end designer vehicles. It’s unfortunate that they do not want to compete with him fairly, but he refuses to be intimidated into submission.”
Fisker claims Aston Martin executives sent him several “threatening letters” and made “disparaging comments in the press” to keep him from launching his Force 1 luxury sports car at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show, the largest car show in the world.
Though he is keeping most of its details under wraps, he has said it will be equipped with a naturally aspirated engine with 745 horsepower and come with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Hot car fans expect the engine to be a “high-displacement V12.”
A teaser sketch released in December indicates that the Force 1 will have a front engine and flared wheel arches. Production is set for April or March, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Media response has been “spectacular” for the Force 1, which will be available for “just under $300,000,” putting it in direct competition with Aston Martin’s cars, the complaint states.
Fisker took a brief hiatus from car design when his company, Fisker Automotive, could no longer produce cars after its battery supplier filed for bankruptcy. A year later Fisker founded Henrik Fisker Design & Technololgy and now focuses on designing “high-performance luxury sports cars that cater to a celebrated clientele,” the complaint states.
He claims that “Aston Martin, with its aging product line and inability to finance and produce new and exciting vehicles, is extremely threatened by the reception the Force 1 has received.”
Since Aston Martin cannot compete with the Force 1 by building a better car, Fisker says, it sent him a letter claiming that his car is too similar to the Aston Martin DB10, featured in the recent James Bond movie “Spectre,” and demanded that Fisker not launch it at the Detroit Auto Show under threat of legal action.
Aston Martin’s claims are “pure nonsense” because they are based on the top-down view in the teaser sketch. In fact, the company has no idea what the final version will look like, according to the complaint.
“The truth is that Aston Martin and the three individuals who run it … are so concerned that Fisker will be competing with them in the marketplace, they are attempting to extort him into submission,” the complaint states.
Aston Martin, established in 1913 in the United Kingdom, is a “low-volume sports car manufacturer” headquartered in Warwick. Its North American counterpart is based in Irvine, Calif.
Despite being the preferred car of famous fictional spy James Bond, Aston Martin has long struggled with “financial distress” and low sales volume, according to the complaint. It has sold only 70,000 cars in its entire 103-year existence, while Porsche, another low-volume luxury carmaker, typically sells 50,000 cars a year, according to the complaint.
In response to abysmal sales in the 1990s, Fisker says, Aston Martin hired him in 2001 as its design director, to “revamp the company’s vehicle lineup,” which he says he did until he parted ways with the company in 2004.
The former president of BMW’s Designworks, Fisker is best known for designing the BMW Z8, Aston Martin V8 Advantage, Aston Martin DB9 and Fisker Karma.
The two cars Fisker designed for Aston Martin boosted its annual global sales to 7,052 cars in 2006 and 7,393 cars in 2007 – a far cry from 400 cars a year in the 1990s, according to the complaint.
After he left Aston Martin, Fisker says, the company’s sales plummeted by 44 percent between 2008 and 2014, while Porsche sales saw an 81 percent increase during the period, U.S. auto sales rose by 25 percent, and global sales of luxury cars boomed, the complaint states.
Fisker claims that Aston Martin is “greatly threatened by [his] return to the sports car market. Aston Martin is keenly aware that, as a public figure with a large following of elite automobile purchasers, Fisker has the ability to sway purchasers, including potential purchasers of Aston Martin vehicles, to any sports car he is involved in designing and marketing.
“Aston Martin’s concern is exacerbated by the fact that since Fisker left Aston Martin, the company has failed to introduce new products that have garnered anywhere near the same level of attention the V8 vantage and the DB9 did a decade ago. In fact, the V8 Vantage designed by Fisker remains the company’s best-selling vehicle,” the complaint states.
To stop its sales from dying, Fisker says, Aston Martin decided to threaten him with a copyright infringement lawsuit, denigrate him in the press, and “shun him from the industry” to put the brakes on his resurgence.
“People don’t know that Aston Martin is in a bad spot, hanging on for dear life,” attorney Michaels said. “An industry insider would know, but not necessarily the public.”
Since the average person does not know how much it is struggling, Michaels said, a false accusation from Aston Martin that Fisker stole its car designs would carry “great weight” and could cause “tremendous damage” to his reputation.
Fisker says the Force 1 bears no resemblance to any Aston Martin car, including the DB10, and uses none of Aston Martin’s design elements. In contrast to the DB10’s flat windshield, tapered roof and short rear end, the Force 1 will have a round windshield, square roof and a long rear with a straight side line, the complaint states.
Several other luxury sports cars share similarities with Aston Martins, including the Chevrolet Corvette and the Jaguar F-Type, because long hoods with pushed-out wheels are characteristic of front-engine sports cars, which date back to the 1960s, and are not Aston Martin’s exclusive trademark, the complaint states.
Fisker says Aston Marin’s meritless claims and desperate extortion tactics “threaten to inflict extreme and irreparable damage on the individual who made car design fashionable. Fisker has built his credibility in his design skills, being referred to repeatedly in the press as a ‘world renowned designer.’ Such a baseless claim by Aston Martin would subject him to public humiliation, embarrassment in the industry and significant financial losses,” the complaint states.
Preventing Fisker from attending the Detroit Auto Show would ruin his reputation, “effectively kill” the Force 1, and leave his workers unemployed, he says.
“However, the defendants are unconcerned with the consequences of their actions, so long as it silences the famed designer. Saddled with a company that is teetering on the brink of insolvency, Andy Palmer, Simon Sproule and Marek Reichman are desperate to stomp out Fisker as a legitimate competitor, at all costs,” the complaint states.
Aston Martin did not immediately return an email request for comment Tuesday.
Fisker seeks punitive damages of $100 million for civil extortion.
Attorney Michaels is with MLG Automotive Law of Newport Beach.
The BMW Z8 roadster, produced from 1999 to 2003, was designed to evoke the classic style of the BMW 507 of the late 1950s. Featured in the James Bond film “The World is Not Enough,” the Z8’s 4.9-liter 32-valve V8 engine with 400 horsepower can reach 60 mph in about 4 seconds. Designed with an aluminum chassis and body, neon exterior lighting and a color-matching metal hardtop, the car had a $128,000 price tag.
The Aston Martin V8 Vantage was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2005 for the 2006 model year. Available in a two-seat, two-door coupe or roadster, the V8 features a front-mounted 4.7-liter 420 horsepower V8, six-speed manual transmission, leather upholstery on the dash, steering wheel and shift-knob, and zero to 60 acceleration in just under 5 seconds. Aston Martin’s sleekest, leanest model, the car is one of only two to be deemed “super cool” on the BBC program “Top Gear” and was voted the best current production car design in 2006 by readers of Car Design News.
Fisker’s final car design for Aton Martin was the DB9, which debuted in 2003 at the Frankfurt Auto Show and was the first model built at Aston Martin’s Gaydon facility in Warwickshire, England. Featuring a 6.0-liter V12 engine, walnut and leather interior, satnav and Bluetooth on the dashboard and the traditional Aston Martin grille and side streaks on the exterior, the DB9 was the company’s first Aston Martin model to use Ford’s aluminum VH platform chassis.
After leaving Aston Martin and founding Fisker Automotive, Fisker designed the Fisker Karma, an electric 4-door luxury sedan with front engine and rear-wheel drive. Assembled by Valmet Automotive in Finland and launched in 2011, the Karma’s combined city/highway fuel economy was rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at 52 mpg in all-electric mode and 20 mpg in gasoline-only mode. The Karma is driven by two 161 hp electric motors powered by a 20.1 kWh lithium ion battery, can reach 60 mph in about 6 seconds, and comes standard with a solar-paneled roof that can generate a half kilowatt-hour each day.
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