Thursday May 22 2014

Why copy me?

We are sometimes spurred on by our competitors to come up with better innovations. Some manufacturers endeavour to make better what was designed by someone else. That said, there are some “lazy” manufacturers who instead blatantly copy others shamelessly to the extent that they have been taken to court. Which copying is good for the industry and which one is bad?

Jude: Correct me if I am wrong but I think it is Mercedes Benz that started the design of having the blinkers (indicators) on or within the side mirrors. I think they did it first with the face-lifted first generation ML.

Mustafa: Is it technology or design?

Jude: Design. And after that, almost every other automaker copied it.

Mustafa: You know one of the greatest minds of our generation, Steve Jobs, the former Apple CEO, said good artists copy but great artists steal. That is one of the quotes that people keep talking about. In the car industry, this happens all the time. When BMW releases its latest model, immediately, Mercedes orders for it and puts it under some bunker. They tear it apart and see what is going in there.

Jude: Is that why they are introducing the ML coupe or MLC? It is coming up next year but it looks very similar to BMW’s X6.

Mustafa: It could be their marketing team coming up with an idea, like let’s come up with something that will fight the X6.

Jude: Motoring journalists are saying it is an imitation of the X6 because BMW was the first automaker to come up with an SUV coupe.

Mustafa: Yes, but you know I could say the same with the Mercedes CLS. The four door coupe.

Jude: So is copying good?

Paul: I think the argument of copying is rapidly running out of steam. The Germans have been the first to cry foul. A few months ago, the German Chancellor, Angella Merkel, had a go at China. A lot of Mercedes Benz and BMW cars have look alikes in China.

Jude: The Chinese have been at this game for a long time. They copy your car and get away with it.

Paul: Even Fiat, has gone to court over copying. But the Chinese have stuck to their guns saying it is everywhere. Even in Germany, it is happening! The thing is, with every idea that comes up, because of competition, your competitors are bound to respond. They may come up with something similar but packaged in a better way. And I think if you ask if copying is good, I will tell you copying is healthy. It keeps everyone on their toes.

Jude: I may not have a problem with copying per se, but the way the Chinese do it. If Mercedes copies BMW’s SUV coupe design, at the end of the day, the Mercedes will look different. But the Chinese will copy the Land Cruiser and make theirs exactly like yours and give it a funny name.

Mustafa: There are two things. There is blatant copying whereby someone will put your technology in something say like a photocopying machine.

Jude: Copy and paste, that is what some Chinese do.

Mustafa: That one is a totally different story. But what we are talking about here is when people look at their competition and take that technology or the design and make it their own or even improve it. This happens all the time.

Jude: Is it like Audi’s daytime running lights or the LED lights?

Mustafa: LED

Jude: Mercedes has tried to improve them, so has Lexus and others.

Mustafa: Everyone is doing them, which is a good thing. I mean, Audi starts the trend but you may find others looking better. But if you ask me, I think Audi looks cooler.

Paul: Have you seen the new Jeep?

Mustafa: Yes, I have seen it.

Paul: The lights look good.

Mustafa: You asked about Audi’s LED lights, do you know the BMW angel eyes?

Jude: Yes, I do.

Mustafa: The same thing, same concept as the LEDs but who did it first? Was it Audi or BMW? If BMW announce their angel eyes, Audi will say, it’s okay, for us, we’ll do a different design within the headlamps. So who is copying who? You may not call it copying per se, but for me, the angel lights look way nicer than other LED lights.

Jude: But at least, you credit the manufacturer you copy like they did with the Altezza/Lexus IS lights. Other automakers copied them but still call them Altezza/Lexus lights even if a similar design were to be used by BMW or VW!

Mustafa: Just like the daytime running lights that everyone is doing these days, everyone still looks at them as Audi’s initiative and calls them Audi lights.

But you know this copying is not just on the exterior. Sometimes, it goes down to the engine, the transmission. In fact, you may find a Mercedes transmission being shared with other brands. You could find that the transmission module is designed by Bosch.

Jude: Is that the same as saying that the FSIs, the D4 engines are the same?

Mustafa: They are not the same per se, but there is naming your technology differently.

Paul: The concept is direct four engine. I think Mitsubishi should take credit for introducing the technology or what they call gasoline direct injection (GDI). And it is simple. Deliver the fuel directly in the combustion chamber electronically and under high pressure. Toyota chose to call it D4, but it is the same technology.

Jude: And Volkswagen?

Paul: VW calls it fuel stratified injection (FSI).

Mustafa: And Mercedes called it?

Paul: Mercedes calls it CGI!
Mustafa (hearty laughter)- This technology! Look at variable timing by Toyota, their VVTi thing. It is the same as VTEC by Honda and Vanos by BMW.

It is the same thing but the implementation may be different. There are different levels of efficiency. If you look at Mitsubishi’s GDI at the time it was introduced, it was good but it would fail because it was at its infancy. Probably, they tested it with high quality fuel. But in the real world, if you subject it to the different kinds of fuel available, it may not work well.

Technology is improved with time. People experiment- if I do this, this will happen? Of course, technology has improved with time. The same thing with the D4 engines when they were introduced. There was a bit of a challenge. They were very sensitive to fuel and the oil supposed to be used.

But later versions of the D4 are much better. So, I don’t want to call it copying. People borrow a leaf, only that some brands do it better. They have the budget. Luxury brands like Mercedes can afford to produce something and sell it to you at a premium. Toyota or Honda can still do the same but when they charge you that premium, you won’t allow.

Jude: This copying or for lack of a better word, using similar technology and naming it differently, can it be said of Mercedes’ Blue Efficiency being their version of hybrids?

Paul: Yes, but also improving it because traditional or the first hybrids that Toyota did had problems. So Blue Efficiency is better. I don’t have a problem with someone borrowing a leaf and improving it, making it better. Or overcoming the challenges the first one had.

Jude: Fine, what I am not pleased with is the blatant copying of the Chinese.

Mustafa: The shape, the lights, everything!

Jude: And when they are accused, they say, look, this is my design and not yours!