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Audi sues Nio in a trademark dispute

Dusseldorf Chinese carmakers are pushing more and more towards Europe. This isn’t always conflict-free. Audi is currently seeking a legal dispute with one of the electric newcomers from China. The VW premium subsidiary filed a lawsuit against Nio in a Munich court, according to the group’s circles. Some of the models being offered for the first time in Europe would infringe Audi brand rights.

Specifically, these are two Nio SUVs with the ES6 and ES8 type designations. Audi has been selling two sports sedans under the model names S6 and S8 for several years. With the type designations of its new electric cars, Nio comes very close to the Audi models introduced some time ago, according to the argument of the VW branch in Ingolstadt.

“Like many successful companies, Audi is always careful to protect its trademark rights comprehensively,” a company spokesperson confirmed the procedure. The opponent had chosen model names for the European market “which, in our opinion, infringe the Audi brands”. Legal clarification of the matter is currently pending, so Audi declined to provide further details.

Similarly, Nio’s European branch in Munich was reserved. “We are not commenting on an ongoing trial,” said a spokesperson. For the automaker, the lawsuit represents an unexpected upheaval due to the entry into the European market that has just begun. Nio has been selling its cars in China for a long time.

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In response to the lawsuit, Nio acts more cautiously in his first public appearances in Germany. Vehicles from China have already been shown at automotive conferences. For safety, Nio removed the type designations on the controversial SUV.

Difficult expansion in Europe

Nio’s entry into the European market is slow and planned only in selected countries. Late last year, the company initially started selling in Norway. The European sales office and a design center are located in Munich. Audi has therefore also filed a lawsuit in a Munich court.

Sales in Germany are expected to start in the fourth quarter. Initially, only the ET7 will be placed on the market, a sedan comparable to a Mercedes E-Class or a BMW 5 Series. Initially, there is no sale of the two SUV models, against whose type designation Audi has filed legal action.

>> Read also: 167 percent sales increase: Chinese carmakers take off in Europe

A focus for Nio is in Scandinavia: from Norway, the carmaker is expanding further to Sweden and Denmark. In addition, Nio also starts selling its models in the Netherlands.

Gaining a foothold in Europe is far from easy for Nio, regardless of the Audi cause. Technical reasons are also responsible for this. The Chinese manufacturer is one of the few electric vehicle suppliers that doesn’t rely only on classic charging stations. Nio also uses so-called interchangeable batteries. Exhausted batteries are replaced with fully charged batteries at special service stations.

Unlike other non-European manufacturers, Nio must not only create its own sales network, but also set up change stations for batteries. The car manufacturer has a special position with this concept and cannot cooperate with another manufacturer.

Nio showroom in Shanghai

The manufacturer caters to wealthy customers with eye-catching store concepts.

(Photo: Bloomberg)

So far, Nio hasn’t given details on how dense the network of interchange stations in Germany should be, for example. There is also no indication of where the first distribution points should be built. In the automotive sector it is assumed that the company will initially focus on larger cities such as Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.

The automaker is likely to follow a Tesla-like concept and go downtown locations with eye-catching store concepts. Such a “Nio House” already exists in the Norwegian capital Oslo. The company is a premium manufacturer that primarily wants to serve wealthy clients.

So Nio would be a direct competitor for Audi. The fact that the Volkswagen subsidiary is now legally defending itself against a possible competitor is not understood by the entire industry. “The likelihood of confusion between an SUV and a sedan is quite low,” says Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, professor of automobiles at the Center Automotive Research (CAR) in Duisburg.

>> Read herewhat software needs plagues Audi within the VW group

The expert calls Audi’s approach “counterproductive”. Competitors shouldn’t treat themselves this way. A lawsuit creates a “bad climate”. The procedure could also be negatively received in China. Audi is one of the most important premium vehicle suppliers there.

Chinese manufacturers are leading the way in digitization

However, a single lawsuit is unlikely to stop the expansion of Chinese electronics manufacturers. “They are becoming stronger and stronger in electromobility,” emphasizes Stefan Bratzel, professor at the Center of Automotive Management (CAM) in Bergisch Gladbach. In China, manufacturers like BYD, Geely or Nio have emerged in recent years who are absolutely competitive with established suppliers.

Chinese suppliers have also made significant progress in digitization, perhaps even more than their European competitors. Companies are also being pushed onto the ground by domestic customers, who demand better digital capabilities than European car buyers.

Moreover: This is how software development overwhelms German car manufacturers

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