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Tough To Be Wheego: Germany Crushes Electric Car From 'Hand-To-Mouth' Startup

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2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

It's hard to start a car company.

Really, really, really, really, really hard.

Which is why little Wheego Electric Cars is having a tough time of it at the moment.

Last week, CEO Mike McQuary told industry trade journal Automotive News that the company was "living hand-to-mouth" and that its first 200 cars "will creep out as we raise money."

This is not a particularly useful way to attract buyers, who may already be apprehensive about buying an electric car with only two seats that was designed and partly assembled in China.

That electric car, by the way, costs $33,995. That's more than either the 2011 Nissan Leaf or the 2012 Mitsubishi 'i', both of which have twice the number of seats and global automakers behind them.

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

It also doesn't have the fit, finish, or driving refinement of either of those cars, as we discovered during a test drive last November.

Wheego is seeking $15 million. Electric-car startups Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, in contrast, have each raised several hundred million dollars to fund full-scale production. Tesla was even able to go public last fall.

Now, at the request of Daimler--another very large global automaker--Germany has seized and destroyed a Wheego that was privately imported into that country. The demolition, with a forklift no less, took place at the customs offices at Bremerhaven.

Wheego Electric Cars in the U.S. wasn't involved, but it won't help their brand image for Germans to recognize the company as one whose car was destroyed for infringing the intellectual property of a large and prestigious German company.

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

It all stems from the styling similarities between the Wheego vehicle--which is the body of a Noble, built in China by Shuanghuan Automobile, converted to electric drive--and Daimler's far-better-known Smart ForTwo urban two-seater, sold in Europe and the States.

While the Wheego is larger in every dimension, and the Noble has its gasoline engine in the front driving the front wheels rather than under the load deck as the Smart does, there's an undeniable resemblance.

In 2007, after international legal wrangling, Daimler came to an agreement with China Automobile Deutschland that the gasoline version of the Noble could be sold within Europe, but not in Germany.

That agreement doesn't cover electric versions, however. With Daimler's 2011 Smart Electric Drive electric car launching in the U.S. and Europe, the company demanded that the Wheego be destroyed to protect its intellectual property.

There's nothing like musical theatre to summarize the human condition. In that spirit, we dedicate the song below to the management of Wheego Electric Cars.

[Autobild via Autoblog Green]

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Comments (2)
  1. To crush the poor little thing sounds a bit ruthless even by German standards. In fact much like OBL's untimely demise and BHO's birth mystery this story needs some further proof. And please not some amateur Photoshop job this time...
     
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  2. I don't blame the Germans wanting to crush this imitation. If imitations are poor quality it can destroy the reputation of the company they imitated from.

    Also, Daimler spent lots of R&D dollars engineering their car. If we allow some company to copy without paying a royalty, then there is no reward or incentive to innovate and make better products.

    The problem with the imitators is that they usually don't acknowledge who they copied from and that demoralizes the engineers, scientists and innovators.
     
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