“Every designers’ dirty little secret is that they copy other designers’ work. They see work they like, and they imitate it. Rather cheekily, they call this inspiration.” — Aaron Russell
Today, the inspiration mentioned in the above quote passed me doing 85mph on the highway. I thought it was a new Mercedes CLS, but was very surprised to finally catch up and see it was a Volkswagen. To be more specific, it was the new Volkswagen CC, and it looked fantastic. The confusion is easy to make, since the car has virtually the same sweeping lines as the Mercedes. Both vehicles give the impression that the roof has been chopped slightly, and both cars have the same sweep over the tail.
Copying, or using another design as “inspiration” has been done many times before, most notably by Russian and Chinese carmakers who have made virtual replicas of American cars. Detroit has also “borrowed” design cues from other manufacturers. Look at the roofline of a 1975 Cadillac Seville and you will see the roofline of a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. Check out the shape of the Chevrolet Corvette and you will see the shape of the Opel GT. It’s astonishing and whether you’re a total gearhead, someone who works for rac.co.uk or the AAA, or an everyday consumer, then you’ll think it a little odd that it’s a practice that continues unabated, but it does have its benefits despite the criticisms of its detractors. It happens all the time, and it is done to make small cars feel big, cheap cars feel expensive or boring cars feel exciting. The technique is used for distraction and for deception, whatever is needed to sell cars.
Protecting a design is big business in the automotive industry, and corporate espionage is still prevalent. This year there have been reports of Porsche executives being spied on at hotels, Ferrari dealerships being spied on by Aston Martin dealerships, and even Daewoo engineers defecting to Russia and selling stolen designs. The line between borrowing and stealing is fought over every day in the car business.
Volkswagen has borrowed from the Mercedes CLS, and produced a similar looking car for about $40,000 dollars less than the original. This could turn out to be a huge hit for VW, and give them the success that never materialized with the Phaeton. If it does, we could be looking at a future where copycat cars flood the market like fake Chinese designer handbags.