Famous car company clashes – Axon's Automotive Anorak

20th November 2020
Gary Axon

Just like some petulant children bickering over the fruit pastel or an unseated US President refusing to leave the White House, car companies are not immune from having their occasional squabbles as well, with a pair of amusing disagreements currently taking place among the ‘grown-up’ automotive makers.


The first of these current spats involves Citroën and Geely/Volvo’s electric start-up brand Polestar. Volvo’s carefully planned international sales roll out for Polestar has recently run into an unforeseen hitch. On the eve of Polestar’s scheduled launch into the sizeable French new car market, local producer Citroën has lodged an official complaint and court case, delaying the new Chinese/Swedish all-electric vehicle brand’s sales introduction by at least six months. And the cause of this dispute? Polestar’s logo!

To remind you of Polestar’s corporate insignia, the badging is a pair of chevrons, positioned vertically top-to-bottom, to resemble a star. The two chevrons in question closely recall the latest incarnation of the familiar Citroën ‘double chevron’ logo that the idiosyncratic French vehicle maker has been using for the last 101 years, since its foundation in 1919. Quite how the giant Geely group will respond to Citroën blocking Polestar’s French market introduction remains to be seen.


The second current ‘handbrakes at dawn’ argument is a droll verbal pot shot at Tesla from none-other than the president of the world’s largest vehicle producer – Akio Toyoda of Toyota. Speaking at Toyota’s annual ‘earnings call’ corporate presentation earlier this month, Mr. Toyoda took a swipe at Tesla – currently valued at around $400 billion, making it rated as the most valuable car company on earth – commenting that ‘Tesla has not created a real business in the real world as yet.’

Toyoda said that Toyota expects to sell around 7.5 million vehicles globally, making it the world’s number one vehicle maker, generating an operating profit of 1.3 trillion yen (c.$12.6 billion) for the fiscal year ending in March 2021. Whilst Mr. Toyoda acknowledged Tesla’s success, he said that its valuation and market cap do not reflect a ‘real world’ business, nor compare to Toyota’s high-volume manufacturing and sales. At the time of writing, Tesla’s founder Elon Musk has remained uncharacteristically quiet and has yet to respond to Mr. Toyoda’s comments.


This recent pair of automotive squabbles are not the only cases of ‘car wars,’ with countless other disputes between vehicle makers being a common feature of the highly cut-throat motor industry throughout history, with most disagreements relating to alleged naming and copyright issues. Among the best-known of the former is Peugeot forcing Porsche to rename its all-new 356-replacing rear-engined coupe in 1964.

The story goes that Porsche presented its new 901 at the IAA Frankfurt motor show in September 1963 as the successor to its inaugural 356 model range. Series production of the 901 began in September 1964, but when Porsche presented the model at the Paris Motor Show in October of that year, French car manufacturer Peugeot objected to the new Porsche’s 901 model designation. The reason? Way back in 1929, Peugeot had globally patented a three-digit model designation code with a ‘zero’ in the middle (e.g. 104, 206, 308, etc.). Porsche was therefore compelled to expensively rename its 901 as the 911, with just 82 examples of the 901 produced before the enforced name change. As an interesting aside however, Peugeot didn’t object to the Bristol (e.g. 401, 402, 406, etc.) and Ferrari (208, 308) marques using its patented three-digit model designation system, with Bristol even sourcing the model badges for its 403 directly from Peugeot!


Similar naming disputes have also blighted a number of other car companies, with the mighty Ford famously taking minnow West Sussex kit car maker Dutton to court over the rights to the Sierra model name, with the Dearborn/Dagenham giant left with egg on its face when pint-sized Dutton won the legal case (its Sierra kit car being launched more than three years ahead of the controversial 1982 Ford family hatch!). Ford was more successful when it prevented AC from calling its continuation models Cobra, a name owned by Ford, with the snarling Brooklands-built V8 sportsters renamed Superblower, 427, and so on! And of course there was the spat between Ford and Ferrari that led to the creation of the Le Mans-winning Ford GT40, a story that has been covered on GRR many times and most recently in the film Le Mans '66, or Ford v Ferrari.

Some others motoring mammoths have been rather more successful at tackling rivals over model naming rights. Just ahead of Volvo introducing its medium-sector S40 saloon in 1995, German competitor Audi prevented the Swedish firm from calling its new model S4, as originally planned, due to alleged potential naming confusion.

Renault was somewhat more callous when Fiat revealed its original Panda-replacing ‘Project 169’ prototype at the 2003 Geneva Salon. On the initial Geneva Show press day, Fiat’s characterful new Bertone-designed five-door city car wore Gringo badging and number plates.

By the second press day though, all Gringo insignia had been removed and replaced by ‘Project 169’ designations. Seemingly, Renault’s senior management had walked onto the Fiat stand during the first day of the Salon to inspect the Gringo. They immediately lodged a complaint with Fiat, claiming the Gringo name was too close to Renault’s own Twingo label, with the Italian marque reacting as gentlemen and (bizarrely) swiftly agreeing to change the name, ultimately retaining the popular Panda nomenclature by the time the Project 169 ‘Gringo’ concept had made it into production a few months later.


Blatant facsimiles and design copyright infringements are another common cause of car company ‘punch-ups’ too. German manufacturers Smart and BMW have been successful at preventing shameless Chinese-made copies of some their models from being exhibited and sold in certain European markets, with the latter also preventing the small-scale British bespoke production of an appealing 1960s Stewart & Arden lowered Mini Sprint replica, due to BMW registering the shape of the classic 1959-2000 Mini.

Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Ferrari have also managed to put a stop to various replicas from their comprehensive back catalogues of iconic models being made, with some fake body panels and moulds even being crushed by law! Recently though, Italian coachbuilder ARES Design has played Ferrari at its own game, winning a legal battle in the Brussels EU courts on a copyright ruling, enabling ARES to make Ferrari 250 GTO-inspired models.

Specialist British sports car maker Caterham has arguably been the most effective at stopping direct copies (of its archetypal Seven model) being reproduced, however. The Seven’s originator, Lotus founder Colin Chapman, agreed to pass the production rights to his inspired, simple two-seater roadster over to Caterham (previously the world’s top-selling Seven dealer specialist) in 1972.

Of the many hundreds of Lotus Seven-inspired cars made around the world since then, Caterham managed to quash would-be English rival Chris Smith produce his early Westfield facsimiles in the mid-1980s, forcing a design change to these more affordable Sevens, with all of the tooling for the early models (which subsequently became known as the pre-lit [litigation] Westfields) being destroyed by court order.

Caterham’s Dutch agent/importer – Donkervoort – was similarly forced to stop building its own precise replicas of the Chapman Seven too, with increasingly extreme reinterpretations of the Lotus original being developed and sold as the S8 and S10 models over the last 45-years or so, thus avoiding the need for expensive lawyers and playground-style scraps.

  • Axon's Automotive Anorak

  • Polestar

  • Citroen

  • Porsche

  • Peugeot

  • Ferrari

  • Bristol

  • Tesla

  • Toyota

  • Ford

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