Delta Wing Project 56, a company backed by racing and pharmaceuticals entrepreneur Don Panoz to develop the DeltaWing racecar, is suing Nissan, claiming that the recently revealed BladeGlider concept, which Nissan revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show, infringes on intellectual property related to the DeltaWing.
Nissan says that their delta shaped car is inspried by “the soaring, silent, panoramic freedom of a glider and the triangular shape of a high-performance ‘swept wing’ aircraft.” One of the members of the BladeGlider project is designer Ben Bowlby, who originated the concept of the DeltaWing and he’s named as a defendant along with Nissan and Darren Cox, director of Nissan’s global motorsports program.
Panoz’s suit, filed Nov. 22 in Superior Court in Jackson County, Ga., seeks a cease-and-desist order that would prevent Nissan from displaying, racing or selling cars with such a design. Nissan has said that the BladeGlider is not just a concept and that it will be the basis of a production car.
Bowlby came up with the DeltaWing concept while working for Chip Ganassi. Panoz later got behind the idea, arranged for Dan Gurney’s All American Racers shop to build the car and Highcroft racing to campaign it at LeMans and in American endurance racing with sponsorship from Nissan. Panoz says that he’s invested millions of dollars proving the concept and would like to license the idea to automakers to use on production cars.
Bowlby, after developing the DeltaWing, was hired by Nissan as “director of motorsport innovation” and proceeded to design Nissan’s ZEOD RC electric racer, which bears a close resemblance to the DeltaWing which has a narrow, arrow shaped front end carrying two relatively narrow tires close together, and a wide wheel track in the back. The ZEOD will be racing in an experimental class next year at LeMans, just as the DeltaWing did.
Panoz said last month that he has built two prototype production cars and is pitching the idea to automakers as a means of saving fuel. The DeltaWing is exceptionally aerodynamic. Panoz claims that if Nissan is able to race and sell similar cars without paying a royalty, the DeltaWing’s shape will effectively become public domain.
“Everybody else in the market would be open to that kind of design,” he said. “And what do automobile companies do? They see something that’s taking off and they want to mimic it, don’t they?”
A spokesman for Nissan North America in Nashville declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The unconventional DeltaWing has showed promise on the racetrack. It hasn’t racked up any wins yet but it did finish 5th out of 42 cars at the 2012 Petit Le Mans race outside of Atlanta. The 4th place finisher had 50% more horsepower than the 300 HP DeltaWing, with relies on low drag and low weight to achieve speed, not a big engine.
“In the very beginning with this car, because it was so new and such a departure from what race cars were, with their big front wheels and wide front ends, a lot of experts said, ‘The car won’t work. It will fly. It won’t corner,’” Panoz said. “The car does work. It doesn’t fly, and it does corner.
The lawsuit accuses Bowlby of misappropriating confidential information and seeks “damages and injunctive relief arising out of theft of confidential and proprietary information, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contracts, unjust enrichment, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation.”
One reason why both Nissan and Panoz see the concept finding the light of day as a production car is that the latest CAFE targets are based on a vehicle’s wheelbase, not weight or capacity. With it’s long wheelbase a production car based on the DeltaWing would have to meet a relatively low MPG target, which it could easily meet because of light weight and aero efficiency.