TURIN, Italy -- Ford Motor Co. has forced Ferrari to use the full name of its “Ferrari F150th Italia” Formula One car in the future after the U.S. automaker sued the Italian automaker over the use of the abbreviation “F150.”
In principle, Ford was right: The F150 name and logo were quite similar to those of Ford’s popular F-150 pickup truck.
Forcing a rival automaker to change a name that is too similar is a due action, particularly -- as Ford alleges -- if the Italian company did not reply properly to the U.S. automaker’s early warnings.
Nevertheless, Ford’s suit sounded ridiculous: “Ferrari has misappropriated the F-150 trademark in naming its new racing vehicle the ‘F150’ in order to capitalize on and profit from the substantial goodwill that Ford has developed in the F-150 trademark,” the U.S. automaker said in the complaint.
It is really hard to imagine how using a name could permit Ferrari to “capitalize” on anything for a track-only racing car, designed just to go faster than its rivals, no matter what name it bears.
Ford also wanted a judge to ban Ferrari from importing, manufacturing or selling any F150 products in the United States.
Were Ford’s lawyers told that the F150 -- oops, the Ferrari F150th Italia, to be politically correct -- is a racing-only model, which is not for sale, either for private customers or for racing teams?
In addition, the new Ferrari race car will not even compete in the United States, where Formula One races stopped last year.
So confusion with a big pickup truck was impossible.
How did it go this far?
The entire matter should have never happened in a normal world, but the automotive landscape lately has degenerated.
Consider how the Ford headed by Henry Ford II handled an earlier problem with Ferrari.
In 1963, unable to buy Ferrari after a last-minute about-face by company founder Enzo Ferrari, Henry II ordered Ford to create a race car to beat Ferrari on its own turf: the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race.
The Ford GT40 is still a magnificent piece of automotive design, but in its day -- after a false start -- it was a stunning racing machine. The GT40 won Le Mans in 1966 and again in 1967.
Of course, the Ferrari of today is owned 85 percent by Fiat S.p.A., which also has management control of Ford’s Detroit rival Chrysler Group.
Ultimately, I’m just surprised Ford, headed by the brilliant CEO Alan Mulally, did this to a guy Mulally has referred to as his friend, Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. And I would guess Marchionne isn’t too happy about seeing the Ferrari name needlessly dragged into this public dispute.