NASHVILLE -- There's a noisy fight taking place over new assembly line technology meant to ensure that vehicle interiors are dry and quiet.
And the story has some Southern flair -- featuring flinty old General Motors, nimble Japanese transplants and a good ol' boy struggling to pronounce the name of his Japanese business contact. And, of course, NASCAR.
The star of this story is "The QuadraSonic Array," also known as "The Cargate Arch." It is a drab piece of factory equipment that has huge implications for the world auto industry. The technology is under study by GM, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., Nissan North America Inc., the Chrysler group and Mercedes-Benz.
If it does what inventors claim, the tool could save automakers millions in warranty work. Even more important, it could do away with two of the biggest customer-service headaches in the North American auto industry: wind noise and water leaks. It accomplishes this by using ultrasound transmissions to locate tiny holes in vehicles as they move down an assembly line.
But there's a problem. Two sets of Nashville-area tech firms have laid claim to the technology and are feuding over the U.S. patent for it. One group has sued the other in a cease-and-desist lawsuit that seeks $30 million in damages.
At the moment, it is unclear who will end up with the right to sell the technology.
On one side is Gayle Technologies Inc., which says it developed the concept years ago when Country music star Tanya Tucker asked the company's founder to help NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine tune his engine.
On the other side is QST Holdings LLC, a company formed with Gayle's former head of sales. QST now holds the patent.