As someone with a lifelong love of the original Volkswagen Beetle and a general, even amiable disregard for the overall welfare of large corporations, I was excited to see the delightfully brazen knockoffs of the old-school VW Beetle designs by the Chinese EV brand Ora, with their wonderfully-named Punk Cat and Ballet Cat cars. It’s likely inevitable that Volkswagen will want to have (legal) words with the company at some point, but I like these cars and want to see them thrive. With that in mind, Ora, if you’re listening, I have A Plan.
The fundamental problem here is, of course, the very obvious one: Ora’s cars look just like VW Beetles, and to suggest this as just some sort of coincidence would require an expectation of human intelligence so low that, were that the case, most humans couldn’t be expected to handle such challenges as, say, spoon usage.
Really, you have to admire the forged steel ‘nads on Ora. The Beetle is arguably the most recognizable car ever built, the intellectual property of one of the world’s biggest carmakers, and they thought, “ah, fuck it, let’s just build one of our own! There’s no way they can possibly get away with this, right?”
Well, I think there may be one way.
If Ora tries to sell the Punk or Ballet Cat in America or Europe, it’s likely VW will try to stop them. Even if VW decided to stop making cars that look like the original Beetle, I’m pretty sure they’re not crazy about anyone else doing so.
Maybe Ora has a legal team that can make the argument that the Beetle’s design actually pre-dates the founding of Volkswagen, because it does. Remember, the Beetle started life as the KdF-Wagen, named for the Nazi-era organization created to help Germans take vacations and buy cheap cars.
Now, no Germans actually got their KdF-Wagens, and it wasn’t until after the war that the British started building Beetles in any real numbers, and soon after that Volkswagen the company was officially founded. So, the design does pre-date the company.
But that’s not really going to fly. VW sold Beetles for about seven decades, all over the world. The Beetle is pretty clearly theirs.
But what if Ora can claim their car isn’t based on the Beetle at all? At first, that sounds ridiculous, because, again, what the hell else could it be? Well, hear me out. What if Ora made the case that the Punk and Ballet Cats are actually designed to resemble this car:
I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, Torch, you drooling, miserable simpleton, that’s just another picture of a Beetle! This is why nobody likes you, dummy!
And while you’d be right on a lot of those details (the drooling, the simpleton, etc.) you’d be wrong about one key part: that is not a Beetle.
Nope. It’s not. It’s a car I’ve written about a while back, a car called the Orix 610.
The Orix 610 has a really strange story. Orix was a Spanish maker of microcars that used a clever little air-cooled flat-twin engine. A number of designs were built, but, for reasons lost to time, in 1954 the company built some cars that looked exactly like slightly smaller VW Beetles, and even showed those cars at the 1954 Barcelona Trade Fair.
For whatever reason, even though Volkswagen seems to have been aware of the cars, they made no legal effort to stop the company. Maybe because they figured the company was too small to really matter (they weren’t exactly wrong) or maybe because, somehow, the company managed to explain that a few minor details in difference were important enough to merit VW leaving them alone, which seems to have actually happened.
The company folded for a number of reasons soon afterwards, but the important thing is that it set a precedent of blatant Beetle copying without repercussion and, more importantly, gives Ora a barely-plausible out.
See, Ora can just say, no, our car isn’t based on this—what’s it called?—Volkswagen Beetle, but rather is a tribute to the wonderful Spanish car, the Orix 610!
Hell, the similarity of the names Ora and Orix should be enough to sell this, right? Why else would they call their car an Ora if not to remind people of that famous, insectoid-looking car, the Orix 610!
(I do kind of like Ora’s use of the Beetle “tombstone” shaped taillight (1968-1972) design for the lighting of the Ballet Cat, by the way)
At this point, if Ora is smart, they’ll start making some obvious tie-ins to the Orix 610 “heritage.” Maybe they can even try and find any remaining ancestors of Juan Ramirez Montpeó, the founder of Orix, and pay them for the rights to make a modern, EV Orix 610.
Then, when VW comes after them, they can say, hey, baby, be reasonable! This isn’t about you. We simply built some modern homages to the amazing Orix 610, and have a licensing deal with the Montpeó family, and VW certainly can’t have any issues with that, since all of VW and Orix’ conflicts were solved way back in 1954!
This is ironclad. Ora, you got all this? If anyone asks, the car is meant to look like an Orix 610. Stick to that story. Send the link to this article if you need to. You guys can hook me up with a Punk Cat or whatever for my idea, a transaction I’m sure is completely ethical.
Ready? Let’s get it started then: Man, I sure love these new EV versions of the Orix 610! Ora-Orix, oh, I get it now! It’s all so obvious! That’s the first car I think of when I see these cars, the Orix 610! That’s the only one I can think of with this look, that Spanish car from 1954!