Today, Nissan unveiled a new prototype of its oddly DeltaWing-like road car, the BladeGlider—immediately raising the eyebrows of anyone who remembers DeltaWing’s long, David vs. Goliath intellectual property battle with Nissan. Very quietly, those court cases came to an end earlier this year.
I reached out to both Nissan and DeltaWing Technologies for an update on the legal proceedings, and both parties gave us largely the same legal-department-friendly answer. The three outstanding court cases were dismissed in March. A settlement was reached under confidential terms, which both DeltaWing and Nissan representatives emphasized was “to all parties’ satisfaction.” (This phrase was used verbatim in both companies’ statements.) Neither party was willing to comment further on the case as a result.
Neither side of the court battle—even the Don Panoz-led DeltaWing side, which has been more than willing to publicize every step of their fight with Nissan in the past—appears to have said a peep when the lawsuits were dismissed. In fact, I only learned of the result after I reached out to both companies when reader Andrew Bakke asked if I knew of any further developments.
Although no terms were made public, we can now assume at least one result of that settlement: Nissan was able to continue working on their BladeGlider road car concept, or at least the idea of it.
See, the BladeGlider has a whole lot in common with a car Ben Bowlby originally penned as the next-generation IndyCar. When IndyCar passed on Bowlby’s radical triangular design, Panoz licensed the intellectual property for the DeltaWing from its owner Chip Ganassi, making the DeltaWing the new face of the Panoz-led companies’ race car and road car efforts to come. They hired star designer Ben Bowlby to help them as well.
Nissan signed on as a sponsor to the DeltaWing racing program, however, the DeltaWing side claimed in court documents that they never finalized that sponsorship. After cutting ties with the DeltaWing project, Nissan came out with several curiously similar arrowhead-shaped car projects of their own, including the ZEOD RC hybrid electric Le Mans racer as well as the BladeGlider road car concept.
This prompted the DeltaWing group to file civil lawsuits alleging that Nissan ripped off the intellectual property behind the DeltaWing and poached designer Ben Bowlby to work on their own pointy-car projects, among other things. Don Panoz in particular felt truly betrayed by Nissan.
Both entities also desired to turn the DeltaWing’s innovative, efficient design into a road car. Nissan started working on theirs while they were still (in theory) tied to Panoz, and released the BladeGlider after that relationship was done.
The most telling quote about the BladeGlider’s genesis belonged to then-Nissan Global Motorsport Director Darren Cox. When one person who was working on the BladeGlider project asked if they could drive the original DeltaWing, Cox shot him down fast. Cox wrote via email, as quoted in court documents:
Nissan do not own the [DeltaWing] car. We leased the car as part of an engine deal/racing programme. ... Contractual relationship with DeltaWing Partners (owners of the car) is very delicate. THEY MUST NOT FIND OUT WE ARE CONSIDERING A ROAD CAR. There would be severe legal implications.
The existence of the Nissan BladeGlider project made it harder for DeltaWing to find partners willing to work on their version of a DeltaWing-inspired road car. Why back a smaller company’s project when a larger one is doing the same thing with a more likely chance of success?
While both companies have now shown prototypes for such a road car, DeltaWing’s plan to race a GT version of their road car didn’t happen at the end of 2015 as they initially planned. DeltaWing Technologies—the member of the Panoz/DeltaWing family responsible for their road car plans—has been rather quiet since showing off a prototype of the GT racer at Petit Le Mans in October of last year.
Regardless, now it seems as if the “severe legal implications” Cox knew were a risk with the BladeGlider and other Dorito-shaped projects have been resolved, at least for now.
You can read the full, complicated story of how both companies got to this point here.