At least four parties want the historic brand for themselves.
On July 29, the Hispano Suiza Carmen crossed Barcelona streets and avenues in what appears to be just a marketing stunt. Such as the one Ford performed with the electric F-150 prototype. But it is way more than that. It is a struggle for the right to use the brand.
For the ones not familiar with classic cars, Hispano Suiza was the most important Spanish brand before WWII. Known for its luxurious and innovative vehicles, it had the brains of the Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt and the financial touch of the Catalan entrepreneur Damià Mateu.
Mateu died in 1935 and the automotive division of the company in Spain was nationalized in 1946. The airplane engine division, based in France, was already nationalized in 1920 and eventually bought by Safran in 1968.
This says a lot about the mess around the rights to use the brand. It was both used for cars and for airplane engines and parts. The airplane division still used the name until very recently.
The Carmen will be produced by the Mateu family, heirs of Damià Mateu, from the Grup Peralada. It is an all-electric machine that will have only 19 units produced, at the cost of €1.5 million each, or $1.68 million at current exchange rates. The problem is that it does not have full rights for the brand. At least not in Spain.
The valid trademark for vehicles – Class 12 – there is in the name of Maria Pou Portus. She was Erwin Himmel’s partner in business and in life for a brief period. The partnership may be over, but her plans are not. “Yes, I want to put Hispano Suiza cars on the market,” she told me in an article I wrote for MotorChase.
In case you don't know Erwin Himmel, he was VW’s head of design in the 1990s. He presented a prototype back in 2010 – the Grand Turismo Coupé, or X10V – and a new one in February 2019, called Maguari HS1 GTC. Both bear the Hispano Suiza brand and a new logo, probably designed by Himmel.
The Austrian designer has valid trademarks for the brand in the UK and for both the name and the logo in Germany, France, Austria, and Monaco. He used to employ a designer called Gonzalo Ramírez, which is now the design director at the Chinese automaker Dongfeng.
Ramírez also wants to have the Hispano Suiza brand and he is currently suing Himmel and Marta for it. Anyway, there was no valid trademark in his name.
Safran is by far the company with most trademarks for Hispano Suiza. But there is a catch.
“It (Safran) seems to own Hispano Suiza trademarks, but it may not have used them in respect of cars. You can’t simply register and sit over it. You may have this situation when someone sues another that has a valid trademark claiming they were not using it,” said Simon Clark, a solicitor from Bristows LLP, one of the most important law firms in what relates to patents and trademarks.
You may ask how this Chinese puzzle may affect the electric hypercar, but the question should be the opposite. The Carmen was created to try to solve this puzzle in favor of the Mateu family.
Himmel attempted to have the trademark in the US, but he could only have it if he had a product to present. The Grup Peralada very likely knows that and is running to get its car ready and to appear as the rightful owner of the trademark for the public.
If they manage to get there, you’ll see a two-seater that is 186.2 in (4.73 m) long, 80.3 inc (2.04 m) wide, 48.8 in (1.24 m) tall, and that has a 110.2 in (2.80 m) wheelbase. With an 80 kWh battery pack, it weighs 3,726 lb (1,690 kg), but the company seems to have the intention to improve it.
With two permanent magnet synchronous motors on the rear axle, it is able to accelerate from 0 to 62 mph (0 to 100 km/h) in less than 3 seconds and to reach a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h).
Erwin Himmel bets they won’t. Mostly because of the taillights, which would make it impossible to homologate. The Grup Peralada expects to get there by the end of the year. And to deliver the first unit in June 2020.
Himmel may do the same, but with advantages. The Maguari is based on the Audi R8, which makes homologation and production theoretically much faster than with an entirely new car. Whoever manages to produce and to deliver their cars first will have a product to support registrations and legal suits all over the world.
Since there is no world trademark office, each country will have to decide who has the right to use the Hispano Suiza brand in its territory. With serious implications to anyone who loses the battle.
“There is a risk related to selling the cars. Either Himmel rebrands them to avoid complications or takes the chance of losing the rights to use the brand and having to pay a lot of money”, said Clark.
Who do you think that has any chance of winning? EV fans may already have a favorite. Check what Himmel said about electric hypercars: “In half an hour, the battery is empty. That is not suitable for a supercar. I also wanted to make a hybrid, but clients did not want it. You have a very small number of clients that want something exotic. It is a big discussion in the world. Electric cars are not the final solution.”
Gallery: Hispano Suiza Carmen Moves Around Barcelona
Hispano Suiza Carmen makes dynamic debut in Barcelona
As part of its first official public driving appearance, the new, fully-electric grand tourer from Hispano Suiza showcased its classically-inspired design at world-famous Barcelona landmarks
Barcelona, 30 July 2019 – The Hispano Suiza Carmen has made its global dynamic debut on the streets of Barcelona, its home city. Cruising the famous city streets and coastal roads, the fully-electric hyperlux grand tourer was piloted by a selection of drivers, including Sergio Martinez Campos, the brand’s CEO and Lluc Martí, Technical Director of Carmen.
With less than a year until customer deliveries begin in June 2020, the Carmen’s debut saw it glide past a selection of Barcelona’s architectural and design landmarks including Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, and the modern and imposing Agbar Tower. The drive included an exclusive opportunity for customers to see and experience the car in motion as part of the tour that also took in some of Barcelona’s most exclusive hotels.
Since the global premiere of the Carmen at the Geneva Motor Show, the development team has worked on a comprehensive testing and refinement programme. The car now has an entirely new suspension system, alongside a series of weight-reduction and rigidity enhancements. The chassis development also includes crash structure optimisation with extensive use of carbon fibre, enhancing performance, while shedding weight.
Miguel Suqué Mateu, Hispano Suiza President, said: “We are extremely proud of our long heritage, which dates back to our beginnings on the streets of Barcelona in 1904. This legacy and the style icons of our home city made it easy to decide where the Carmen should make its global dynamic debut.”
The next stage of the Carmen’s journey intensifies vehicle speed and dynamism to realise the car’s full – 1,019 PS – potential. The hyperlux grand tourer will first conduct a series of on-road tests in the north of Catalonia, before moving to the world-famous Ascari racing circuit for high-speed testing and handling development.
Barcelona and Hispano Suiza
Hispano Suiza’s headquarters, technical centre, and manufacturing facility are all in Barcelona – a city intertwined with the brand’s proud Spanish spirit and strong family legacy. Owned by the fourth generation of the Suqué Mateu family, Hispano Suiza built more than 12,000 luxury performance cars and 50,000 aeroplane engines between 1904 and 1946.
Today, the Carmen hyperlux grand tourer is designed, developed and manufactured in Barcelona. The handcrafted Carmen is based on a super-stiff, hand-laid carbon fibre monocoque, which provides the foundation for the car’s exceptional luxury, comfort, and attention to detail.
Development and build of the Carmen and its custom-designed electric powertrain is led by the company’s production partner, QEV Technologies. Also based in Barcelona, the team of highly-skilled engineers at QEV Technologies boasts experience across design, engineering, R&D and production for Formula E teams, supercar brands and mainstream car manufacturers.
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About Hispano Suiza
Hispano Suiza is a historic Spanish car brand owned by four generations of the Suqué Mateu family. Hispano Suiza Fábrica de Automóviles S.A. was founded in Barcelona in 1904 by Damián Mateu with the support of Technical Director and engineer Marc Birkigt – a partner in the company.
In 2000, Hispano Suiza built a prototype luxury two-seat supercar HS21, which was shown in Geneva that year. The K8 and HS21-GTS models, both evolutions of the first, were presented in 2001 and 2002.
Since it was founded, four generations of the Suqué Mateu family have preserved the family brand, injecting impetus and dynamism to maintain the significant heritage. On taking control of the company, Miguel Mateu – the son of the founder – continued the production of prestigious, top-of-the-range cars.
After his death, his daughter Carmen Mateu was nominated President and she continued her father's work, keeping the essence of the brand alive through a diverse range of activities including events, exhibitions, conferences, book and magazine publication, research articles, and participation in rallies. Today, Hispano Suiza is overseen by its President – Miguel Suqué Mateu – the great grandson of Hispano Suiza’s founder.
Hispano Suiza is part of the Peralada Group, which represents the pinnacle of luxury in gastronomy and entertainment through its music festival, golf course and global portfolio of casinos, restaurants, hotels, vineyards and marinas.
About QEV Technologies
QEV Technologies is an R&D innovation company, which specialises in electric mobility, providing a complete suite of automobile production services including consultancy, design, engineering, manufacturing, validation and homologation for high-performance electric vehicles. The QEV Technologies headquarters is in Barcelona, next to the famous Circuit de Cataluña in Montmelo.
QEV Technologies has its foundations in motorsport with Campos Racing and is also the technology arm of Mahindra Formula-E Racing, plus the European R&D facility for Chinese firm BAIC.