By on December 1, 2012

A Detroit court found a former GM engineer and her husband guilty of conspiring to steal hybrid car trade secrets. Their lawyers unsuccessfully argued that there were no secrets to steal. Ed Niedermeyer had said that for years.

Shanshan Du and her husband Yu Qin face lengthy prison sentences. Sentencing will occur in February 2013.

In 2010, the couple was indicted on charges including conspiracy for allegedly stealing GM hybrid technology between 2003 and 2005. According to the indictment, Du copied thousands of pages of GM trade secrets onto a portable computer hard drive five days after accepting a buyout offer.

When we covered this story in 2010, our now Editor Emeritus Ed Niedermeyer wrote:

“The real story here is just how stupid Du and Qin were for targeting The General’s hybrid technology between 2003 and 2005.

To this day GM still has yet to develop a commercially successful hybrid drivetrain, and at the time of the alleged theft, only the highly unsuccessful BAS “mild hybrid” system (production start in 2006), the PHT truck mild hybrid system (production in 2005), and expensive, complicated “two-mode” hybrid system (production in 2008) were on track for eventual production. What Chery, Du or Qin saw in that technology is utterly baffling… and their attempt at industrial espionage may well have been the greatest compliment ever paid to GM’s long-abortive attempt to catch up with Toyota and Honda in the area of hybrid technology.”

As proof, Niedermeyer entered the video which we play again above. At the four minute mark, a former top executive at GM testifies that back then, there was nothing worth stealing.

The couple’s lawyers used the same line of reasoning, but could not convince the Detroit jury. When the matter goes to appeal, possibly the attorneys can call Lutz as a witness. Or Niedermeyer.

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42 Comments on “Chinese Couple Found Guilty Of Stealing Crap From GM...”


  • avatar
    Tinker

    So,petty theft? Stealing secret data, so you can tell people your hybrids are crap has SOME value, right? And it probably rises above felony level. The rest is just quibbling.

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    You get paid by an employer and there is an implicit agreement that you will be loyal to them. You may not agree with what they are doing, but your success is intertwined with that of the company. Stealing is still stealing, one of the ten commandments. Doesn’t matter if what they stole is worthless, it is still wrong.

    • 0 avatar

      “Trade Secrets” are a protected class of intellectual property, under US law.

      I actually believe trade secrets to be a better solution for the industry than the broken patent system, especially for software.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      The agreement isn’t implicit. I had to sign a civil contract called a nondisclosure agreement when I started my current job at a dot-com. This is fairly typical of high-end engineering jobs.

      As my employer has said, small amounts of financial damage to the company are quite large relative to the finances of an individual employee…

      Anyway, nothing implicit about the NDAs and no amount of moralizing will make it anything other than a way to throw the book at employees who don’t toe the line. But the deal is spelled out in precise terms beforehand, so you’re free to take it or leave it. I took it, and a near-six-figure salary under those terms, and I’m glad I did. But let’s not pretend there’s something high minded about this – my employer pays a premium to het people to voluntarily agree not to talk about products that haven’t been released, and they’ll throw the book at people who sign the agreement and don’t follow through. Nothing high-minded, moral, or implicit about it, but it’s the deal you make for this kind of job.

      • 0 avatar
        PenguinBoy

        That has been my experience also – every engineering job I’ve ever had going back over 20 years has required me to sign an NDA. Companies seem to take this stuff seriously, as well they should.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        That’s about it. Stealing your employer’s IP is a crime, particularly if you’ve signed an NDA agreeing to not do so.

        As for the merits of GM’s hybrid technology (especially mid-2000s stuff), there aren’t many. But this is of no consequence to the case, except when damages are assigned and fines are levied.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    Just goes to show you, stealing garbage is still stealing.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      Except that in this case they probably weren’t stealing garbage.

      GM has made some poor vehicles in the past, but it does not follow that their technology is poor.

  • avatar
    mcs

    One of benefits of growing up in the Detroit area in a family with several auto engineers as members was getting to ride in just about every car made at the time. After those cars were driven, from what I understand, the cars were disassembled and reverse engineered.

    Fast forward to the present and there are tools out there that allow you to get a dump of what’s going on in a cars CAN bus and it’s still possible to disassemble a vehicle – especially with tools like a laser scanner to record every little detail. It really shouldn’t be too difficult to produce an entire set of vehicle plans by just purchasing the original and reverse engineering it. In fact, the reverse engineered specs can even be more accurate than the originals.

    If anything, these people were idiots because there are much better ways of stealing designs these days.

  • avatar
    toomanycrayons

    Goodness, if they start jailing auto industry people for stupidity will there be anybody left to turn off the lights?

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Their lawyer should be shot for not getting the judge to hear the case. In my experience, when matters of law are the crux of your case, DO NOT expect 12 people too stupid to get out of jury duty to decide your fate. Can you spell “appeal”?

    • 0 avatar
      ultramatic

      Have faith in the American judicial system much? Perhaps they misunderstood our legal system and figured they would draw a sympathetic judge hand-picked by the party hacks and avoid all this inefficient “jury by your peers” nonsense.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      olddavid, as someone who was too stupid to get out of jury duty, I sat on at least 14 juries during my lifetime, and was foreman on seven of them.

      What the judge allows in court and what a judge ends up giving you in writing, and what the jury must decide on, is far different than what often meets the eyes and ears of the press or general public.

      And every juror brings their own values, loyalties and affinities to the panel. Facts are often interpreted differently by different people who apply their own value filters, and that’s why in America so many guilty people go free and so many innocent people are in prison, wishing and hoping that someone, somewhere, will help prove their innocence.

      Some people were hopelessly guilty of other crimes but not guilty of the crime they were charged with. Often, jurors believe that if a person was charged or indicted, they must be guilty, other facts be damned. And Grand Jury panels are only given a one-sided version and presentation of the case, and often would have voted differently if all the facts from both sides had been presented to them.

      Even though there wasn’t anything to steal in those days, didn’t matter. They took what was not rightfully theirs to give to China, and the jurors, through their own value filters influenced by the failure and death of GM, and the automotive-industry situation in Detroit, needed scapegoats to pay, by finding them guilty for all the ills of the US auto industry.

      Facts often are irrelevant. A judge hands the jury a list of questions they must debate and decide on, and come to an agreement. What the jury ends up getting to decide on may not include all the facts pertinent to the case.

      Ours may be the best system of justice on the planet, but it is far from perfect. We find that every time someone is released from prison after many years of being locked up because the DNA evidence proved their innocence or the accuser recanted.

      I doubt an appeal will change anything since an appeal only looks at if the law was followed, not the merits of the case brought before the court.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        highdesertcat..

        Excellent analysis. Your experience parallels my own.
        No, it’s not a perfect system, but as someone (Will Rogers?) once astutely said, “America has the worst system of government ever, — except for all the others!”

        ———-

      • 0 avatar
        PenguinBoy

        I always associated the comment about democracy with Winston Churchill:

        “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

        I see Winston Churchill’s quote included “it has been said”, so perhaps he was thinking of an earlier quote by Will Rogers…

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    ….GM’s long-abortive attempt to catch up with Toyota and Honda in the area of hybrid technology…

    Interesting how without even meaning it, one can write in a preferential manner to one company while ignoring the other. Toyota? Absolutely! Honda and hybrids? Well, the original Insight was a technological success but not really a commercial one. Kinda like the Volt. But what’s good for the goose, well Honda dropped the hybrid ball big time if judged by commercial success. Lousy battery life, poor range, too small a mileage increase…even the Accord hybrid was a dud even if it was fast because they missed the hybrid target. Fast car buyers are not looking for Accord hybrids and hybrid buyers want mileage first and foremost. You would almost think GM did the market research on that one. So looking to Honda for hybrid tech would be silly. GM’s Two Mode should have been successful, after all going from 13 EPA to 21 is a MAJOR improvement. But the market did not agree and it failed. Mild hybrids? Again, it makes sense and does work, but calling it a hybrid doomed it in the marketplace and also was a blow to GM engineering. Really, the only real competitor to Toyota in the mass market is Ford. And no surprise, the basic tech is almost identical…

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      GM Marketing misread the hybrid tea leaves because they couldn’t believe anyone actually looks at the big MPG numbers on the window sticker.

      They did believe hybrid owners when they told GM that they like the green image. They believed the engineers when they said that putting a hybrid into a Tahoe saves a lot of fuel (and it does). So, they put a hybrid into a Tahoe and covered it with gaudy “look at me I’m a hybrid” stickers. But hybrid owners are at least deep enough to look at the big MPG sticker in the window and see that 50 > 20, so Prius wins almost every time, and cost $10k-$15k less.

      Same with the BAS Malibu. Nothing wrong with the tech – it’s a perfectly respectable fuel saving technology. But GM Marketing went around trying to tell us it was as good as the Prius (it’s not). 50 > 23, Prius wins. A Focus is a low-cost alternative to a Corvette but, if you invite people who really want a Corvette to evaluate a Focus as if it were a Corvette, the Corvette wins. And so it was with the BAS Malibu and the Prius (the Prius has a real hybrid system under its hood). And both the Malibu and the Prius have middle class pricetags, so Prius wins again.

      So, yeah, these systems performed to spec for the most part. The engineers did their job as well as anyone could when they’re given a mandate to build an unsellable product. And GM Marketing missed the big freaking billboard that sells hybrid cars, which is the window sticker that is required by law to be on every new car sold in the USA. Oops.

      • 0 avatar
        PenguinBoy

        “They believed the engineers when they said that putting a hybrid into a Tahoe saves a lot of fuel (and it does).”

        I can see how they came up with this idea, reducing the fuel consumption of a large SUV by 25% saves a lot more fuel than reducing the fuel consumption of a compact car by 25%.

        “So, they put a hybrid into a Tahoe and covered it with gaudy “look at me I’m a hybrid” stickers. But hybrid owners are at least deep enough to look at the big MPG sticker in the window and see that 50 > 20, so Prius wins almost every time, and cost $10k-$15k less.”

        It looks like hybrid owners want the lowest overall fuel consumption, and so they buy a small, aerodynamic car that is improved further by the addition of hybrid technology.

        Unfortunately, people who need or want a large SUV don’t seem to be particularly worried about fuel consumption. This seems true within Toyota’s line too – how many hybrid Highlanders do you see compared to Priuses and regular Highlanders?

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Best headline ever! They definitely should be imprisoned for sheer idiocy.

  • avatar

    Reg headline…
    Class: Some auto-blogging websites have it, some don’t.

    Catch up with Honda on hybrid technology? Seriously?
    All four hybrids from Honda, the Civic, CRZ, Insight and ILX combined sold a whopping 1448 units a month. The Malibu hybrid alone at 2414 units outsold the entire Honda/Acura hybrid lineup by a 1000 units. The Buick Lacrosse and Regal hybrids costing $13,000 more than a Honda hybrid have also outsold the entire Honda hybrid lineup.

    The plug-in Fit sold 10 units versus 2900 Volts.
    http://www.hybridcars.com/news/august-2012-dashboard-51090.html

    • 0 avatar

      Edit: To be fair, the Fit EV started selling only 5 months ago but the Volt has been on sale since 2010. As a compliance car sold only in CA and OR, it will never challenge the Volt. My point being Honda as a hybrid technology pioneer is getting its rear handed to them by Chevrolet.

      • 0 avatar
        d524zoom-zoom

        I am sorry on this site one must NEVER NEVER say anything positive regarding General Motors Co. or its holdings and affiliates
        Thank you for your cooperation in this matter

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Good popcorn, thanks Bertel.

    …the greatest compliment ever paid to GM’s long-abortive attempt to catch up with Toyota and Honda in the area of hybrid technology…

    Sometimes people say things in the past that after a few years go by leave you scratching your head. That Honda hybrid technology sure does sell well, why when you combine the Insight, Civic hybrid, Fit electric, and CR-Z together, you get to about 50% of Volt sales, or 50% of the maligned Malibu hybrid sales. Ya, Honda’s hybrid technology is really doing great – didn’t they get sued for not delivering MPGs? Which car are consumers most happy with according to the latest CR study? ;-)

    nom, nom, nom, nom, nom, nom

    This popcorn – is ORGASMIC!

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Honda – not American Honda, Honda – is selling over 200,000 hybrids per year. GM isn’t even close.

      • 0 avatar
        mik101

        And now wait for the complaining about how Japan is a closed market so of course the Volt doesn’t have a chance there… blah blah.

        What I’d like to know is how many of those Malibu hybrids were bought for personal use as opposed to fleet.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        @mike101

        Japan is a closed market is the argument of the feeble, but nice strawman.

        Japan car sales being in decline, a generation not really caring about car ownership, and Japan being squeezed, HARD, in China, now the world’s largest car economy – those are real problems.

        The Nissan Leaf is “big” in Japan too – would you call it, ehem, a success?

        Given how many hybrids GM was selling in 2008, and given the trajectory, I would say overtaking of global Honda hybrids and electric sales by GM is not only likely, but destined by 2015.

        I can’t think of another car company resting hard on its laurels than Honda right now (the massive reskin on the 2013 Civic is finally a step in the right direction)

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      @Dan

      And Alphaville was big in Japan.

      You can’t give away a hybrid in Europe, Toyota is failing in China, the world’s largest car economy. I mean if you’re going to point out success based on hybrids that are practically given away after historical Japanese incentives (now slashed) and in a country where a three year old car is not worth “inspecting” and most buyers dump and buy a new one – if the shrinking Japanese market is Honda’s hybrid hope?!?!?

      OoooooooooooooooooooooooK.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    What if these two were some of China’s best? An updated Boris and Natasha vs the Bullwinkle that was GM and the Rocket J Squirrel of some smart person at GM. Foreigners stealing tech(?) from the Motor City while working in the Motor City? No chance for them at their trial. With all of GM’s JV’s/partnerships/research centers in China; have the Chinese best and brightest gotten better than these two?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Yep Honda gets sued. Meanwhile the Volt takes the CR Annual Owners Satisfaction Report crown for the second year in a row. Spanking every hybrid made by Toyota. Of course just drive any of the Prius mutts and then take a spin in a Volt and you’ll figure that one out.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A shame they were not as clever 43 years ago when they could have purloined the Vega aluminum engine trade secrets.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Reminds me of Boris and Natasha stealing the plans to the 56 Packard for Mr. Big.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Yawn, more anti-GM bloviating. Must have been a slow news day.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      I think you missed the real nitty-gritty here. No matter. The people were guilty of stealing even though what they stole was worthless.

      It’s more akin to someone stealing old newspapers off your front porch than it is to some homeless person stealing food to feed their starving family.

      Both are guilty of theft. The stuff they stole from GM was more like old newspapers than food for a hungry family.

      • 0 avatar
        rpol35

        Highdesertcat:

        I completely agree with you, stealing is stealing, period. It’s the characterization that what was stolen is “crap” because it was developed by GM that is bothersome. I don’t agree with you, however, that it was necessarily “worthless”. That is the opinion of an extremely anti-GM Editor in Chief.

        Besides, this issue has been circulating in the news for weeks.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        rpol35, not to belabor the point but “a former top executive at GM testifies that back then, there was nothing worth stealing.”

        Look at the time frame when these thefts occurred, 2003 – 2005. This was a time when GM was busy reverse-engineering the Prius to get a handle on how Toyota was doing their Hybrid thing. GM had nothing. Not even a source for automotive Lithium batteries.

        Of course that was not what was brought to trial. That was the issue of stealing.

        This issue has indeed been circulating in the news for weeks and the only reason it has legs is because what these two people stole was not of any value to anyone, least of all GM.

        If what they had stolen was actually of value, like let’s say intellectual property such as music or videos or Apple proprietary secrets, there would have been sanctions and tariffs and a bunch of punitive measures against China like the US took against Israel during the Jonathan Pollard spying incident.

        That’s why Pollard is serving life and the US isn’t going to let him ever go to Israel. That boy will die in a US penitentiary and will never see the promised land. The worst and most severe punishment he could ever get. Israel maintains it is cruel and unusual. And that argument continues to have legs as well.

        My point, these thieves stole something that had no intrinsic value and their efforts were a waste of time and an exercise in futility.

        And if you really think about it, GM hasn’t had any ideas on the scale of Ford or Chrysler since before, during or after the bankruptcy.

        GM is struggling if you compare them to Ford or Chrysler. Ford and Chrysler have relevant, up-to-date products. GM promises the world they will too, at some future date. Always some future date.

        That’s not GM bashing. That happens to be the way many industry analysts see it. If those analysts thought that GM was such a good deal, we, the people, would not be sitting on nearly worthless new-GM stock. Many believe it is only going to get worse for GM.

        If I had been writing the story, I’m afraid I would have also written that what was stolen was of no value, based on what GM stated.

        Considering the Volt, the most advanced hybrid GM has, and what the Chinese bring to market now, GM is light-years ahead of China. And seven years is a long time to implement what was stolen into a current Chinese Hybrid.

        The Prius was dissected and reverse engineered in two weeks, and it didn’t even require total disassembly. Certainly the Chinese could have incorporated valuable GM secrets in seven years into their products, if there was anything there of substance.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        HDC

        ‘“a former top executive at GM testifies that back then, there was nothing worth stealing.”

        You do realize that it wasn’t actual ‘testimony’ as in under oath testimony right? That was simply Bertel’s line. Watch the damn interview…especially at the 4:00 point. Its not like a judge slipped in with a bible and a deposition broke out.

        Absolutely hilarious that you think theft of ‘music or videos’ by a Chinese citizen would lead to formal US sanctions against China. Your grasp on this topic is outstanding.

      • 0 avatar

        HDC – Struggling with this statement as being anything but GM Bashing…

        “GM is struggling if you compare them to Ford or Chrysler. Ford and Chrysler have relevant, up-to-date products.”

        Do you have any specific examples?

        On the contrary there is the hugely successful, only B-Segment vehicle built in the US, the Chevy Sonic, the only domestic vehicle that dared to take on the iconic 3 Series (and beat or at least equal it), the Cadillac ATS, the only 4 Door A-Segment that also comes standard with power windows, A/C and Cruise, the Chevy Spark. Not to mention the high volume Cruze that will soon have the only compact diesel from any of the domestics.

        Let’s see what Ford has that is “up-to-date”… Hmmm… Ecoboost? Isn’t that just turbo charging? Sync? Fail…

        What about Fiat/Chrysler? Hmmm… 8 Speed transmissions? Ok, give them that. It sure is A LOT better than the 5 speed it replaced. What else? Hmmm… Lot of promising about small truck diesels but nothing yet… Jeep… No nothing there… You got me on this one.

        Yeah, still not seeing your point.

      • 0 avatar
        rpol35

        Well we’ve gone from auto technology to Apple to pirated videos to Chinese sanctions to Israeli spys and then back to cars with Chrysler’s up-to-date technology(?) but not to belabor the point…..

        Stealing is stealing; what has or does not have value is a subjective call. They got caught and that’s it.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    Stupid criminals are still criminals. Itellectual property can have more value than being copied, it can also be important to know the direction your rivals are going, how much money they’re investing in a project. And not to defend GM, but just because a technology isn’t cutting edge, that doesn’t mean that the right application couldn’t be profitable.


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