Nissan says the idea for the BladeGlider, the wedge-shaped concept that drew crowds at the Tokyo Motor Show last week, came out of the clear blue sky.
The car's inspirations, Nissan says, are "the soaring, silent, panoramic freedom of a glider and the triangular shape of a high-performance 'swept wing' aircraft."
One of Nissan's former racing partners begs to differ.
Delta Wing Project 56, a company backed by racing tycoon and pharmaceuticals entrepreneur Don Panoz, is suing the Japanese automaker, arguing that the BladeGlider is a knockoff of its similarly wedge-shaped DeltaWing race car, which debuted at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 2012 with a Nissan engine under the hood.
The civil suit that Panoz's lawyers filed Nov. 22 in Superior Court in Jackson County, Ga., against Nissan and one of the BladeGlider's project team members, Ben Bowlby, seeks a cease-and-desist order that would prevent the company from displaying, racing or selling cars with such a design. Also named in the suit is Darren Cox, director of Nissan's global motorsports program.
Bowlby was behind Panoz's DeltaWing, which Nissan helped finance. He was hired by Nissan to become director of motorsport innovation and went on to design Nissan's ZEOD RC electric racer, which shares the DeltaWing's narrow, arrow-shaped footprint. Both racers feature a wider wheel track in the rear than in the front.
Nissan hopes to commercialize the radical design idea, assuring audiences that the similarly shaped BladeGlider will become a production car.
Panoz says he spent tens of millions of dollars to prove that the DeltaWing worked. On those grounds, the 78-year-old millionaire claims intellectual property rights to its unusual shape, which he wants to license to automakers.
Panoz said in an interview last month that he has built two concepts of production cars and is trying to license those exotic designs to automakers as a way to boost fuel economy. He said he worries that if Nissan is able to race and sell its wedge-shaped cars, the DeltaWing's shape essentially will enter the public domain of automotive design.
"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?"
The lawsuit adds Panoz, best known in the auto industry for bankrolling the limited-run Panoz Esperante sports car, to a long line of automotive mavericks from Carroll Shelby to Elon Musk who have fought in court for the rights to their designs. A spokesman for Nissan North America in Nashville declined to comment on the lawsuit.