Ingolstadt isn't happy with Nio's ES6 and ES8 model names.
For years, Chinese automakers have gleaned inspiration from the most striking vehicles to roll out of Western design studios. This often results in rather comical knock-offs that, unsurprisingly, are neither flattering nor appealing. But recently, several China-based companies have revealed designs that can't be described as unoriginal or ugly - Lynk & Co's oddly named The Next Day is a prime example.
The striking concept neatly brings us to a Chinese weak point - naming conventions. This has led to an array of newcomers that sport alphanumerical model names, such as the Leapmotor C01. A similar approach has been adopted by Nio, an electric carmaker with some promising products. However, according to Germany's Handelsblatt, the automaker's chosen nomenclature hasn't gone down well with Audi.
In a statement to the German publication, an Audi representative said it wants to protect its trademark rights. "The opponent chose model designations for the European market "which, in our opinion, infringe Audi brands." Naturally, the Ingolstadt-based carmaker hasn't divulged more information as the matter has not been settled. Nio's European subsidiary has taken the same approach.
However, the news outlet reports that Nio has removed the badging from the pair of SUVs. While it has found great success in its home country (and certain parts of Europe), Germany remains a new and unexplored market for the company. German sales of the ES6 and ES8 are expected to kick off in the fourth quarter and negative press could impact the brand's image and reputation.
Aside from possible legal woes, Nio faces several challenges which include setting up retail and charging networks. Not all models allegedly infringe on Audi's trademark; the ET7 (an all-electric 5 Series rival) has a unique model designation.
Despite the obvious connection between the naming system, Audi may not get its desired outcome from the legal proceedings. Ferdinand Dudenhoffer, an automotive professor in Duisburg, said "the likelihood of confusion between an SUV and a sedan is pretty low."
He also notes Audi may be shooting itself in the foot. China is the brand's biggest market and the lawsuit may leave a bad taste in China's mouth, creating a "counterproductive and "bad climate" for the VW-owned premium brand. It will be interesting to see whether Nio and Audi settle on a positive outcome for both companies, but we're guessing Nio is hoping to avoid a name change - it would prove a costly affair and ruin months of marketing.