At least four parties want the historic brand for themselves.
On July 29, the Hispano Suiza Carmen crossed Barcelona streets and avenues in what appears to be just a marketing stunt. Such as the one Ford performed with the electric F-150 prototype. But it is way more than that. It is a struggle for the right to use the brand.
For the ones not familiar with classic cars, Hispano Suiza was the most important Spanish brand before WWII. Known for its luxurious and innovative vehicles, it had the brains of the Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt and the financial touch of the Catalan entrepreneur Damià Mateu.
Mateu died in 1935 and the automotive division of the company in Spain was nationalized in 1946. The airplane engine division, based in France, was already nationalized in 1920 and eventually bought by Safran in 1968.
This says a lot about the mess around the rights to use the brand. It was both used for cars and for airplane engines and parts. The airplane division still used the name until very recently.
The Carmen will be produced by the Mateu family, heirs of Damià Mateu, from the Grup Peralada. It is an all-electric machine that will have only 19 units produced, at the cost of €1.5 million each, or $1.68 million at current exchange rates. The problem is that it does not have full rights for the brand. At least not in Spain.
The valid trademark for vehicles – Class 12 – there is in the name of Maria Pou Portus. She was Erwin Himmel’s partner in business and in life for a brief period. The partnership may be over, but her plans are not. “Yes, I want to put Hispano Suiza cars on the market,” she told me in an article I wrote for MotorChase.
In case you don’t know Erwin Himmel, he was VW’s head of design in the 1990s. He presented a prototype back in 2010 – the Grand Turismo Coupé, or X10V – and a new one in February 2019, called Maguari HS1 GTC. Both bear the Hispano Suiza brand and a new logo, probably designed by Himmel.
The Austrian designer has valid trademarks for the brand in the UK and for both the name and the logo in Germany, France, Austria, and Monaco. He used to employ a designer called Gonzalo Ramírez, which is now the design director at the Chinese automaker Dongfeng.
Ramírez also wants to have the Hispano Suiza brand and he is currently suing Himmel and Marta for it. Anyway, there was no valid trademark in his name.
Safran is by far the company with most trademarks for Hispano Suiza. But there is a catch.
“It (Safran) seems to own the Hispano Suiza brand, but it did not use it. You can’t simply register and sit over it. You may have this situation when someone sues another that has a valid trademark claiming they were not using it,” said Simon Clark, a solicitor from Bristows LLP, one of the most important law firms in what relates to patents and trademarks.
You may ask how this Chinese puzzle may affect the electric hypercar, but the question should be the opposite. The Carmen was created to try to solve this puzzle in favor of the Mateu family.
Himmel attempted to have the trademark in the US, but he could only have it if he had a product to present. The Grup Peralada very likely knows that and is running to get its car ready and to appear as the rightful owner of the trademark for the public.
If they manage to get there, you’ll see a two-seater that is 186.2 in (4.73 m) long, 80.3 inc (2.04 m) wide, 48.8 in (1.24 m) tall, and that has a 110.2 in (2.80 m) wheelbase. With an 80 kWh battery pack, it weighs 3,726 lb (1,690 kg), but the company seems to have the intention to improve it.
With two permanent magnet synchronous motors on the rear axle, it is able to accelerate from 0 to 62 mph (0 to 100 km/h) in less than 3 seconds and to reach a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h).
Erwin Himmel bets they won’t. Mostly because of the taillights, which would make it impossible to homologate. The Grup Peralada expects to get there by the end of the year. And to deliver the first unit in June 2020.
Himmel may do the same, but with advantages. The Maguari is based on the Audi R8, which makes homologation and production theoretically much faster than with an entirely new car. Whoever manages to produce and to deliver their cars first will have a product to support registrations and legal suits all over the world.
Since there is no world trademark office, each country will have to decide who has the right to use the Hispano Suiza brand in its territory. With serious implications to anyone who loses the battle.
“There is a risk related to selling the cars. Either Himmel rebrands them to avoid complications or takes the chance of losing the rights to use the brand and having to pay a lot of money”, said Clark.
Who do you think that has any chance of winning? EV fans may already have a favorite. Check what Himmel said about electric hypercars: “In half an hour, the battery is empty. That is not suitable for a supercar. I also wanted to make a hybrid, but clients did not want it. You have a very small number of clients that want something exotic. It is a big discussion in the world. Electric cars are not the final solution.”
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