The automotive landscape is littered with car designs that resemble one another. More often than not, an aesthetic or functional element is said to have been inspired by another. This is why many people unable to read design claim all cars look the same. They may resemble one another, but they’re not identical.
Earlier this month, I posted photos of the Ares Design S1 Project on my Facebook and Instagram pages and a discussion began gaining traction.
Many people have commented on it since, including Gilsung Park, a former student and designer of the Porsche 2035 LeMans concept. He created it as his thesis project at Pforzheim University. Park claims the Ares Design S1 Project – a limited-edition V8-powered hypercar expected to commence production in 2021 – is identical to his thesis project and that the company ‘stole’ his idea.
I was at the Pforzheim University degree show in 2015 and covered Gilsung’s project on this website. It was sponsored by Porsche and he ended up getting a job with the company. That’s a huge win for any design student. But when he saw the Ares S1 Project for the first time, he was shocked at how closely it resembled his Porsche 2035 LeMans concept.
“I still cannot believe it. It is too obvious,” Park wrote when we exchanged messages earlier this month.
Looking at both projects side-by-side there’s certainly some familiarity. The overall shape, overhangs, forms and volumes are nearly identical. The rear end is particularly striking in its similarity. The only real noticeable difference is in the shape of the DLO and the carbon-fiber vents on the hood and fenders. And if I were being subjective, I’d say I actually prefer the student project, certainly from the front and in profile – the hood, front fenders and roofline are far cleaner and more sensual.
Park says he never consulted with Ares on the design of the S1 Project and considers it copyright infringement. He’s also written the Modena, Italy-based coachbuilder but never received a reply. “How did they do this?” Park added. “Maybe they don’t care at all.”
I’m not a lawyer, but copyright is quite specific. It pertains to original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. The latter specifically refers to films, sound recording, broadcasts and typographical arrangements of published editions of the aforementioned works. While a design would certainly fit the definition of artistic work, it could also be argued that the designer of the Ares S1 Project simply used it as a reference and that Park’s project was never ‘published’.
Either way, I can relate to Park’s feeling of discontent. “My master thesis was obtained by investing more than half a year to creation,” Park wrote on a LinkedIn post recently. “Anyone who has invested their passion and time to achieve results can never be said easily (sic). I don’t want to comment on someone who doesn’t know the difference between inspiration and a copy. I have never seen a company plagiarize student work this much.”
I don’t doubt that Park wasn’t consulted in the design of the S1 Project. Perhaps he didn’t need to be. As Porsche sponsored the project, the company may have the ‘rights’ to the design (if it was protected past the three years granted to unregistered industrial designs), and there may have been an agreement between Porsche/VW Group and Ares Design whereby that original work/right was sold/transferred. While that may be far-fetched, if Park was considered an employee during his thesis project development Porsche wouldn’t need to make him aware. On the flip side, Porsche may have a claim if the design was patented in some form.
If it’s the latter, this remains a difficult case to prove. Unfortunately, many such cases where blatant copies of vehicles were produced (some even with doors interchangeable between competitor models) have been lost. Just ask Fiat about the Great Wall Peri and BMW about the Shuanghuan CEO. Land Rover is one of the few carmakers to have successfully won such a case when it battled Jiangling Motor Corporation over the design of the Landwind X7, a cut-price replica of the Evoque.
The natural conclusion to draw is that a designer working for Ares Design saw Park’s thesis project on his Blogspot website and decided to bring the concept to life. I’m not saying this is acceptable or even justified. And if the design was indeed copied then Park should be paid a consulting fee, especially if the S1 Project makes it to production and its 24 units are sold.
Just to play Devil’s advocate, the fact that someone saw a student thesis project and decided to build a limited-edition car that so closely resembles it is an honor. Sure, no monetary reward was earned, but they might now get to see it on the road. And in the end that thesis project served its purpose and got them a job.
Park sees it differently: “Whoever owns the design, it is criminal. I need to fight for it not only for me but also for all students and individual creators,” he says.
This isn’t the first time a company has been inspired by a student project. There are many examples to cite. And if Ares Design willfully stole the idea that’s a poor reflection on a company claiming to create unique, limited-edition hypercars.
The fact that design is an extremely competitive industry and that young designers are eager to show off their work online to increase visibility and their chances of being discovered surely means that the copying (flattering or otherwise) of original work will likely proliferate. It’s a sad reality.
One of the main reasons I decided to put my most valuable, insightful and original content behind a paywall on this website is not because I wanted to earn money. I wanted to create a community that valued and supported my work while also protecting it from those who copied and republished the materials without my permission and without credit. The copyright © cited at the base of all the site’s pages did little to prevent this from happening.
That behavior has and continues to happen today. So-called creatives copy works published on websites and republish them on their own social channels without even a link or credit to the original source. And they do so without batting an eyelid. Just because something is on the Internet does not give anyone the right to use it.
But, as is often the case, sharing only one side of the story is presumptuous. There are always two sides, which is why I’ve reached out to Ares Design and asked them to weigh in. So far, I’ve not received a reply. If and when I do, I’ll be sure to update this article and the community. Until then, there are still some unknowns and it would be unprofessional to jump to conclusions.