The Truth About Cars » future cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 21 Jul 2014 13:35:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » future cars In the Year 2525 – The Best Cars of Science Fiction Mon, 01 Apr 2013 12:00:55 +0000

The best science fiction tells human stories set against a backdrop of strange worlds or futuristic cities. Because pacing and plot are more important than lengthy, accurate descriptions of the technology at work in those worlds, most sci-fi writers don’t spend a lot of time on the various machines their protagonists use. We might know that our hero traveled in a shiny aluminum air car, but the details generally are left to our imagination.

Fortunately for those of us who want a real peek into the future, film is a visual medium. The best directors know that set and prop design are critical to the tone of a movie and that machines can be as important as the action. They pay a lot of attention to getting just the right look and, even though we may not get to open the hood on that futuristic air car, we definitely get to see it at work, get a feel for its lines and even some idea of how it handles. If they do their job right, we might even believe these vehicle could be real.

The following are, in this author’s opinion, some of sci-fi’s finest.

Korben Dallas’ Taxi from “The Fifth Element.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

In our mind’s eye we usually think of the future as a bright shining place free of dirt and disease. The Fifth Element gives us vision of the future in which the world is as dirty and well worn as an old shoe. The cars in the film reflect this by being futuristic flying vehicles, but with design elements taken straight from the cars of our own yesteryear.

Korben Dallas’ taxi’s huge grill, sweeping fenders and fins hark back to the late 1940s and immediately let us know that this car is old and out of date. Although the technology at work is light years ahead of where we are today, the car is obviously a tired, overworked machine that would look perfectly at home along side any of the tired, overworked machines on the bad streets of New York today. It is at once futuristic and believable, normal yet totally over the top. For the sheer audacity of its design, Korben Dallas’ taxi must be ranked high among the best cars of sci-fi.

The “Spinner” from “Blade Runner.”

Blade Runner is another vision in which the future may not be a better and brighter place. In the book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” the world is a fully fleshed out disaster in which humanity struggles relentlessly along while living amid the aftermath of World War Terminus. A lot of that back story is lost in the Ridley Scott movie and the viewer is thrown into a confusing future society complete with flying cars and robotic “replicants” almost indistinguishable from, and in some cases maybe even more human, than the people they are supposed to serve.

In his book, Philip K. Dick takes little notice of the vehicles Rick Decker and the other bounty hunters use, but the movie is a visual feast and no expense was spared. The Police “Spinners” used in the film are one of the iconic cars of sci-fi and they seem quite plausible designs. Their tires show that they would work well on the road yet they fly with equal ease. Their large glass cockpits are similar to the ones found in modern helicopters and look as though they would give their operators a good field of vision. What I like best about them is that they seem like regular workaday vehicles that could be at work on any police force in the world today. It is this touch of reality that makes me rank the “Spinner” among the best cars of sci-fi.

The “S.H.A.D.O.” cars from the TV series “U.F.O.”

Gerry Anderson had a huge effect on television sci-fi. Beginning in the 1950s his supermarionation hits including “Stingray” “Captain Scarlett and the Mysterions” and “The Thunderbirds” gave millions of kids a look at the future. By the 1970s, Gerry Anderson was producing movies and live action TV sci fi like “Space 1999” and “U.F.O” and his shows included full size working props along with the superior model-base special effects for which his shows are best known.

Two working cars, known to fans as the “Straker “ and “Foster” cars, were built out of aluminum on the chassis of the English Ford Zephyr Mk 4 and used in Anderson’s first live action movie “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun” and later in his series “U.F.O.” Angular and futuristic with gull wing doors, these cars are a very 1960’s version of the future and they have not aged particularly well. Still, because they were seen and obsessed over by millions of young sci-fi fans they must be counted among the important cars of sci-fi.

The “Cricket” from “A.I.”

The movie A.I. is not one of my favorites. Sorry, I wanted to like it but it comes off as a weird dystopian utopia and I think it sends mixed messages. Do we love technology or don’t we? What if that technology loves us? It’s gut wrenching in a way that makes me both glad and sad that I sat through it.

One thing this move does very well is give us a real vision of what our future may be. It is a better and brighter place, but it is not outside of the human condition. In the end, it is humanity’s own frailty and our inability to really understand how we should relate to the rapidly emerging computerized intelligence around us that that makes this vision of the future miserable. In short, the message is that people are jerks. Got that? Yeah, totally a chick flick.

The car, ‘The Cricket” seen in the film strikes me as the kind of car we might actually see on the road one of these days. Bright, light, futuristic and with convenient sliding doors rather than impossible to use in a parking garage gull-wings, the car looks like something you average suburban mom would drive. To be honest, I think it looks cool. Hell, paint it red and add a racing stripe and I’d drive it. It is because this car seems so realistic, without resorting to blatant product placement like some other movie cars (looking at you Lexus and Audi!) that I consider this one of the great cars of sci-fi.

Bonus – The “Landmaster” from “Damnation Alley.”

Sometimes the future sucks and when that happens you need something like the Landmaster to take you, your hippy wannabe Peacenik former subordinate and a couple of oddballs you find along the way to a better, happier place on the other side of the continent. When this movie was released in 1977, aka the middle of the cold war, wasn’t so much sci-fi as it was a vision of what might happen next week. Still, it was good fun and the Landmaster is awesome.

In the film, the Landmaster is portrayed as being constructed out of ordinary truck parts in order to facilitate repairs in the post apocalyptic world. It turns out that this is also a pretty accurate description of the real thing, too. The prop, built for the film cost of around $300K, used a Ford 427 CID industrial engine, the rear ends from two large trucks and an Allison truck transmission. The most unique feature of the vehicle, its drive wheels, are all fully functional and work shown as in the movie. The truck is said to have survived a 25 foot jump during testing with no damage. Because we are men, the Landmaster must be included in any list of the top Sci-Fi vehicles.

I know there are other vehicles out there, feel free to add your own. Just for reference, although I did select several model cars for this article, I purposely chose not to use any cartoon vehicles. If you know of other vehicles that you think need to be added, please add them. And now – to the comments!

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Next Acura RL Will Not Have Electric SH-AWD As Standard Tue, 24 Jan 2012 21:50:56 +0000

Today, TTAC was treated to what might be the first look at Acura’s newest flagship. While we saw renderings of the new car, we weren’t allowed to take photographs – but none of the information released was embargoed.

The look of the next RL can best be described as a current TL mated with a Hyundai Genesis. The overall design is still distinctly Acura, though the rear of the car has a very strong Hoffmeister kink and an overall profile similar to the Genesis or Equus, including a very short rear deck. The taillights echo the Buick Lacrosse – while it sounds unappealing on paper, the design as a whole is not unattractive, just extremely conservative.

The new car is said to be about the size of a 5-Series but with the interior space of a 7-Series. Powertrain details didn’t go much further beyond a V6 of undisclosed displacement, a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox and Acura’s SH-AWD system (previewed on the Accord prototype seen in the above photograph) that uses two electric motors in the rear rather than a mechanical linkage to deliver power to the rear wheels and vector torque amongst the left and right rear sides. Acura officials said that the system would not be standard on the new flagship, even though the new technology will be a showpiece for Acura’s new direction as a brand.

Unless Acura has some new super-secret RWD architecture that nobody knows about, the new flagship will have to have an FWD variant. Acura officials wouldn’t comment on the matter, so we’ll have to wait until April’s New York Auto Show for the definitive answer.

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Toyota’s Prius Chief Engineer Reveals The Future Of The Automobile. Part Two: What Will We Drive In 10 Years? Mon, 14 Nov 2011 12:32:45 +0000

Yesterday, we met Toyota Chief Engineer Satoshi Ogiso in his office in Toyota City. He is responsible for all new technology at Toyota. Yesterday, we talked mostly about the past. Now, we talk about the future.

When I ask Ogiso what car we will be driving in the future, he whips out a chart. It’s a chart which I call “Peak Oil 2.0.”

It’s not that oil wells will suddenly go dry. Level headed people expect oil to flow unabated well into the future. The problem is vehicle growth. In the saturated established markets, vehicle growth is expected to be largely stagnant. It’s the exponential growth in emerging markets that will open a gap between oil supply and oil demand – if all those cars run on petroleum-based fuel. That gap is what keeps Satoshi Ogiso awake at night – and he usually sleeps only 5 hours anyway.

There are many versions of this chart. The one used by Toyota says that we have been living with a small gap since 2005. Experts generally agree that the gap will become a serious problem in the 2015-2020 time-frame. In the world of an auto engineer, 2015 is today. With a lead time to 3 to 5 years, auto manufacturers around the world better have their act together now and answers to how that gap will be filled.

Satoshi Ogiso has the answer, and many will not want to hear it:

“To control this gap, we must go multi track. We must improve gasoline and diesel engines. We must increase the number of hybrid models. We must produce the plug-in hybrid. We must develop city commuter electric vehicles. We already started small production of fuel cell vehicles.  We must do all these improvements at the same time.”

This translates into huge R&D costs which will be beyond the capabilities of many carmakers. The first victims of Peak Oil 2.0 will be small carmakers who cannot keep up with the expense of a multitrack research program at breakneck speed with only small returns in the foreseeable future.

How will this gap be filled? Ogiso puts another chart on the table. Mind you, this is not how all of future fuel will be divvied up. This is only how the 15 or so extra million barrels of oil will be made up for when the gap has opened its hungry mouth by 2030.

According to Ogiso and his team of experts, compressed Natural Gas or CNG will grow in importance. Ogiso sees a “big future in CNG.” Liquid fuels will be with us long into the future. Gasoline will be around for a long time. Increasing amounts of these liquid fuels will not be made from oil.

All of these fuels will drive some kind of internal combustion engine, either directly mounted to the transmission, or in hybrid fashion.

The pressure to improve efficiency, combined with the maturing technology will push the equilibrium more and more in the direction of the hybrid. Asked what kind of a car I will own in 2020, Ogiso says:

“In 2020, hybrid will be mainstream. If  you can have two cars, then by 2020, you will likely have one tiny city commuter car that is pure electric. Your regular car will be a hybrid.

The pure hybrid will be the majority, next volume down will be the plug-in hybrid. Plug-ins can use pure electricity without people worrying about the range. Eventually, city commuter EVs will become popular. And of course, the conventional car will still remain on the market – especially in the developing countries, but even in Japan.”

Efficiency improvements of traditional gasoline engines may soon hit a wall, Ogiso figures. He gives the gasoline engine an improvement potential of “maybe 10 to 20 percent.”  For modern diesel engines, he sees very little room for improvement.

Listening to Ogiso and looking at his charts, it quickly becomes evident that he does not believe in the wholesale electrification of the automobile anytime soon. When he says “EV”, he always adds “city commuter” to it. This is a small niche market, especially when city commuters are supposed to commute via public transport. It is also interesting to note that on his chart, electricity does not play a serious role until 2020. Even then, the electricity may not come out of a battery. It may come out of a gas tank. Filled with hydrogen.

Yes, hydrogen.

For Ogiso, a hydrogen-powered car is like an EV, but without the weight, slow charge time and range anxiety of the battery. He sees a range of 700 km (434 miles) for a hydrogen-powered car that can be refueled in minutes.

But isn’t hydrogen fraught with technological problems? Ogiso does not think so:

“Toyota’s views are a little different. We continued the development of fuel cells. Sure, there were a lot of problems, especially with cold conditions drivability. But at this moment, we have almost cleared all technical issues.”

But aren’t hydrogen atoms so small that they escape any vessel in no time? Isn’t hydrogen so corrosive that it will eat tanks for breakfast? Ogiso looks at me as if I am from Mars.

“No, I don’t think so. We already have 150 hydrogen fuel cell units in the field in Japan, in the U.S. and in Europe, for more than one year, without serious problems. We have not had a car where the gas had escaped in the morning.”

Actually, the only real problem Ogiso is facing with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is money:

“For us, the only remaining real issue that stands in the way of fuel cell electric vehicles is mass production cost.”

In a way, Toyota is with fuel cells where they were with hybrids in 1995: Big, bulky, heavy and expensive. Just much more expensive than hybrids.

Toyota is working hard on shrinking the size and the cost of the fuel cell stack. Expensive materials such as platinum have been replaced with cheaper ones. Last year, a commercial hydrogen-powered Toyota would have cost $100,000 . A few days ago, Toyota’s EU VP for planning, Alain Uyttenhoven said it could be €100,000.

When I ask Ogiso how much that car would cost in 2015, he squirms  and says that there are estimates, but those are not for public consumption.

When I ask him whether a hydrogen powered car would be an affordable option by 2020, then his worried look morphs into all smiles, and he says with conviction.

“Yes. This is my job.”

Now, you ask, and I ask as well: Where will all that energy come from? Another chart lands on the table. I call it the Tokyo Subway Map of New Energy.

This chart shows gasoline and diesel at a clear disadvantage: Both come from only one source, from oil wells. Biofuel is similarly hampered.  Electricity and oddly enough hydrogen can be made from a multitude of sources.  That is all fine and good. But what about the infrastructure? Ogiso is not concerned:

“I am not worried about the infrastructure. There is a lot of hydrogen available. Once we have cost effective hydrogen cars, the infrastructure will follow.”

What also will follow is Part 3 tomorrow, in which Satoshi Ogiso will spring a surprise on you, and where he will demonstrate that bringing down weight, bulk, and cost of new energy vehicles is no longer a thing of the distant future.

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Toyota’s Prius Chief Engineer Reveals The Future Of The Automobile. Part One Sun, 13 Nov 2011 15:05:46 +0000

“Look, when we started the Prius project in 1993, we did not even think of a hybrid system for the Prius. We did not set out to build a hybrid. We studied what was needed for the 21st century, and two things were certain: The need to protect the environment, and the need to bring consumption down. That’s all we knew, and you did not need to be a clairvoyant to know it.”

The man who told me this last Friday better become clairvoyant. On Satoshi Ogiso’s shoulders rests the future of Toyota. Ogiso is responsible for all new technology at Toyota. As Chief Engineer, he is in charge of the Prius and its many siblings, he is responsible for plug-in hybrids, EVs, fuel cell hybrid vehicles, anything apart from the aging internal combustion engine is his.

I meet Ogiso at the world headquarters of the (still, officially) world’s largest automaker in Toyota City. It took me 1 ½ hours to get from Tokyo to Nagoya by Shinkansen, and then about as long again to get to Toyota-shi by subway. Three hours well spent to find out what the future will bring .

I like to talk to engineers about future cars. The answers usually are down to earth, and devoid of marketing hype. In the 80’s, I talked to an engineer at Volkswagen who told me that he was working on the car for the 21st century. I immediately demanded answers. “Well, it will have four tires, a steering wheel, and it will run on gasoline,” was the answer. The man was right.

The Toyota HQ is a 15 floor office building that would look subdued in the suburbs of Cincinnati. A Renaissance Center towers over a city in ruins. A Toyota HQ is hidden between small houses and factory buildings, and is easily missed unless you know where it is. A lone Camry stands in the lobby. The security is likewise unassuming: Three of the usually polite and smiling ladies behind a wooden desk. No ID check, no “Guest” clip, a smiling lady says “dozo”, and there I am, face to face with Toyota’s future.

Satoshi Ogiso doesn’t look the big 50 which he had reached in January. His trademark hairdo is a bit less spiky than usual. He wears a tie. The days of super cool biz at Toyota are over.

Ogiso had worked at Toyota for ten years before he joined what became the Prius team in 1993. He was a suspension man. He worked his way up the ladder by designing chassis parts for the Tercel and the Camry.

In fall of 1993, Toyota created G21, a committee to research cars for the 21st century. The “G” stood for “global”, the “21″ for the 21st century. 32 year old Ogiso joined the group as one of the men of the first hour. He is the longest serving Prius team member.

In spring of 1994 the work started in earnest under Chief Engineer Takeshi Uchiyamada. Ogiso remembers:

“Environment and consumption. These were our sole engineering parameters. Otherwise, a blank sheet. We studied this for more than a year, until February 1995.

This is when we learned that the hybrid system is essential for the future of the automobile. At the end of the study, we were convinced: We need a hybrid system, even if it is difficult.”

It was a gutsy decision. Hybrid technology is nearly as old as the car. Other companies were pulling their hairs out over the technology when Toyota picked it as the system for the new millennium. Audi produced three generations of its Audi Duo concept before the Audi A4 Duo made it into production in 1997. It was a spectacular failure: Only 60 were built. Engineers and journalists questioned the sanity of someone who wanted to save gas by adding extra weight and cost in form of heavy batteries, electric motors, and controllers.

Ogiso smiles when he thinks back:

“At the time, the battery, motor, controller, these components were all huge and heavy. I drew a compact car, 4 meters or so long, with enough interior for 4 passengers. The rest of the space was very tiny, and I had to stuff these huge components somewhere. We had to miniaturize these components. When we showed the drawings around, every engineer, every division, every component supplier said:

Sure, this will be possible – give us 10 years.”

The team did not have that time. In the contrary. The Prius became Toyota’s equivalent to putting a man on the moon. But not by the end of the decade. Says Ogiso:

“In the middle of 1995, we decided to use the hybrid system. Then it was decided to have a market launch 1997, only 2 and a half years later.”

When the Prius arrived, the market was skeptical. The price was high. When the Prius came to the US officially in the year 2000, a gallon of gas did cost $1.50. Officially, Toyota broke even on the car. For Ogiso, turbulent times began, which propelled him in 2005 to the top spot as the Chief Engineer of the Prius.

“Many customers recognized the first generation Prius as a very innovative car, but honestly speaking, the volume of the first generation Prius was not so good. It was beyond our expectations, but we sold maybe 1000 units per month or so.

The customers were a big inspiration for us when we started developing the second and third generation of the Prius. Now the Prius is the best selling car in Japan, and it is also very well sold in the United States.”

In March 2011, Toyota had sold more than 3 million hybrids worldwide, the bulk of them the Prius.

However, the success of the Hybrid remains a Japanese and American phenomenon. In Europe, hybrids are a rarity, when Europeans want to save gas, they drive a diesel. In the emerging markets, hybrids are a dud. According to lore, only one Prius was sold in China in all of 2010.

As it is often the case, the lore was misinformed: Toyota had sold a total of 60 imported Prii in China in 2010. Toyota elected to stop selling the Prius to the Chinese until production of the 3rd generation Prius starts in China early next year.

Ogiso believes that wholesale adoption of hybrid technology around the world is  only a matter of time:

“Generally speaking, the environment and the energy resource situation will get increasingly worse in the future. Other markets will wake up to it. The timing is different. Japan was first, U.S. second. By 2020 to 2025, hybrid systems will be mainstream even in Europe and in the emerging markets.”

Now is the time to ask the question that had brought me here. What car will I be driving in 2020? Will I put gas in it? Will I plug it in? Or will I have to take the train? More on that tomorrow in Part two.

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Hyundai Veloster: Not A Coupe? Tue, 04 Jan 2011 16:50:37 +0000

Hyundai just hit us with this teaser image, showing the forthcoming Veloster, which we (and everyone else) thought was a two-door. Apparently not. Look for the full reveal this Monday, live from the Detroit Auto Show.

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LA Auto Show: Jaguar Jets While Landie Evoques The Countryman Wed, 17 Nov 2010 22:52:30 +0000

Louise Roe was on hand this morning at the Jag/Landie booth, continuing the LA trend of hiring fashion professionals to flog cars. When did models become the vision of all things automotive? Especially when you’re showing something as unabashedly alluring as CX-75 turbine-electric concept car. Why invite the awkward comparisons? Anyway, as supercar concepts come, the CX-75 is about as cool as they come. Not only can it claim to be a “Jet-Hybrid,” it looks like it could seduce an F-16 too. Drool.

On the Landie side, the Evoque poked its head out to confirm that both three and five door versions will be both available in the USA. For those that have never seen the Evoque up close, it is deceptively short. Compared with Land Rovers of the past, this is truly Mini Countryman competition. And if the production models can match the interior quality of these pre-production models, Land Rover might just be on to something. The Evoque’s interior is truly worthy of the Range Rover name with stitched dashes and excellent switch gear. Whether the EcoBoost (but don’t call it that) four-cylinder and Volvo-platform underpinnings are up to the task is another question.

IMG_1333 On a Jag... IMG_1348 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_1345 IMG_1346 IMG_1329 IMG_1338 IMG_1334 IMG_1340 ]]> 3
Saab 9-4X: The Heavier Cadillac SRX Mon, 18 Oct 2010 18:57:15 +0000

Built on GM’s “Theta Premium” chassis alongside its Cadillac SRX sister in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, the Saab 9-4X crossover is less than completely Swedish but more than just a rebadged SRX. Specifically, at a base curb weight of 4,431 lbs (with GM’s 3 liter V6 driving the front wheels), it’s over 200 lbs more crossover than a base SRX.

In top-spec “Aero” trim, the 9-4X weighs up to 4,706 lbs,  or as much as 400 lbs more than an SRX with the same AWD and 2.8 liter turbocharged engine. But despite all that extra weight, Saab is shooting for SRX-equaling fuel economy (20 combined for FWD 3.0, 18 combined with AWD 2.8T), and similar acceleration (7.9-7.7 seconds to 60 mph). As long as performance and efficiency produce Cadillac-rivaling numbers in the real world, most Americans won’t care much about the extra weight. With comparable cargo numbers though (61 cubic feet with the rear row folded), the Saab is going to have to beat the Cadillac on price to overcome its brand momentum deficit. Otherwise, it’s going to have to spend a lot of time talking up the Swedish Quirk ® value of its new Mexican-made crossover.

saab94x3 saab94x2 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail saab94x1 Weightier than a Caddy? saab94x4 ]]> 25
Now YOU Can Be A Spy Shot Paparazzo (No Prior Knowledge Required) Fri, 14 May 2010 12:07:08 +0000

Hunting prototypes for spyshots can be a frustrating and (if done in Finland) frosty affair. Carmakers are taking extreme measures to ward off paparazzi. Carmakers camouflage their prototypes (see video.) This doesn’t faze bloggers. Bloggers found a way to catch future cars in the comfort of their own home or office: From a ragtop Panamera in egmcartech to a similarly topless Mercedes AMG SLS in Topspeed, no future car is safe from bloggers anymore, even before the first prototype is built.  Understandably, the Chinese are highly interested in the technique. You can learn it in a few minutes. What is the secret?

Patented Panamera ragtop. Picture courtesy

Patent applications.  Bloggers and industrial spies mine patent applications for future car designs. Contrary to popular belief and public whining, there is no automatic copyright on car designs. As long as someone else doesn’t blatantly copy the design 1:1, it’s fair game. Design patents offer some protection.

However, here is the hitch: The designs must be filed. In public. Accompanied by drawings. How could one protect a design, without a drawing enclosed with the patent application? Unfair? As Wikipedia explains it in layperson’s terms: With a patent, “an inventor is granted a monopoly for a given period of time in exchange for the inventor disclosing to the public how to make or practice his or her invention.”

There is no camouflaging in these drawings. Au contraire: The novel aspects of the design must be clearly discernible. Otherwise: No patent.

In China, the matter gets even trickier. Very much contrary to popular belief, there is a fully functioning patent system in China, patents are being enforced. If they have been filed. Filed in China, not elsewhere. A lot of whining about “intellectual property robbery” comes from a lack of understanding of the Chinese patent system.

Patented AMG SLS ragtop. Picture courtesy

Highly misunderstood: China, unlike the United States and most other countries, follows the first-to-file doctrine. If a patent application is filed for the same innovation, the first to file will get the patent. You snooze, you lose.

It gets even dicier: In the United States, you can “publicly disclose” (use, talk about, advertise) an innovation, and then you have a full year to file your patent application at your leisure. In China, public disclosure before filing in China pretty much assures that you will not get the patent. You must file the patent before disclosure.

Up until quite recently, it was relatively easy for someone else to file in China for a patent that had already been granted to someone in another jurisdiction, say in the United States. If you filed for a patent in the U.S., but forgot to file in China, someone else could easily get a utility, or design patent in China. The patent holder could then use this patent to prevent others, including the original patent holder, from producing or selling the product in China. Howling ensued each time that happened, but it‘s the law. Well, it was.

Patented Traverse. Picture courtesy

Effective on October 1, 2009, this loophole was closed. Under the amended patent law, an invention loses its novelty in China if it has been before publicly disclosed in the world. If it’s not novel, it can’t be patented. Neither by someone else, nor by yourself. Patent lawyers advise to file a Chinese patent application before there is any disclosure of the invention anywhere else. Now isn’t that counter-intuitive? You invent something in the U.S.A., and the first patent you apply for is in China? If you don’t want to get ripped off, yes. As a side effect, China receives prior knowledge of anything you think the Chinese shouldn’t copy, but them’s the rules.

Companies that ignore or misunderstand these differences (the above is a very condensed version, more for a hefty fee,) complain loudly about IP theft and routinely lose in Chinese courts. Companies that understand the system successfully file patents in China and usually win the case. Maybe. Anyway, they have a fighting chance.

A design patent in China is much like a design patent in the United States, or elsewhere. It protects “any new design of the shape, pattern, color, or their combination, of a product, which creates an aesthetic feeling and is fit for industrial application.” Just like elsewhere, the realistic protection from a Chinese design patent is limited. There is a huge grey zone between patent infringement and inspiration. A design patent in China provides protection for ten years. And at the very least, it prevents third parties from copying body parts of the car for use in the after sale market. There are voices that want to kill design protection for repair parts. The voices are not from China. They are from Brussels. Horrors! The House of Representatives blatantly copied the EU ideas! Someone call a lawyer.

Back to the bloggers: A side effect of the above is that many advanced designs appear first in patent applications. Such as the drawings for the new Buick Excelle, which a few days ago were confirmed by my new Beijing buddy TheTycho who found a new Buick Excelle sloppily parked on the proverbial grassy knoll.

He used the same technique to root out the design of the new Chevy Traverse. The heavy lifting was done by the Chinese site Bitauto, which must have a permanent correspondent at China’s State Intellectual Property Office (“SIPO”.) The new Traverse should be on sale in China by the end of the year. Good news for the UAW local in Lansing, Michigan: The Traverse will be exported to China. And because it’s a patented design, it can’t be easily ripped off. At least in theory.

However, everybody can be a spy shot paparazzo these days. Just sift through the files.

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