Tesla Motors, the California maker of electric cars, says a well-known designer it hired purposely did subpar work for Tesla and then stole trade secrets to start his own company. Tesla sued last week in a California court.
The suit accuses designer Henrik Fisker and Bernhard Koehler, COO of Fisker's design company, Fisker Coachbuild, of fraud, misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of contract during their yearlong effort in 2007 to style the interior and body of the Tesla WhiteStar sedan.
The suit said Tesla paid Fisker, who has designed for BMW, Aston Martin and other high-end carmakers, nearly $800,000 and gave him access to Tesla's trade secrets, business plan and proprietary engineering data developed during production of its first vehicle, the Tesla Roadster.
Tesla accuses Fisker of purposely providing substandard designs for the Tesla sedan — resulting in a six-month delay of its release, to 2010 —while using Tesla's data and holding back Fisker's best designs for his own vehicle.
Soon after completing services for Tesla, Fisker and Koehler announced they were forming Fisker Automotive to put out a four-door hybrid-electric sedan called the Karma.
Said Adam Belsky, a lawyer representing Tesla: "In retrospect, Fisker had a strong motivation not to provide his best work for them." Lawyers for Fisker Coachbuild declined to comment.