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Nio before market launch in Germany – but Audi sues for infringement of trademark rights

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Nio before market launch in Germany – but Audi sues for infringement of trademark rights

Customers look at a Nio ES6 in a shop in Shanghai. The ES6 and another SUV model are expected to come very close to Audi models.

© CFOTO / Picture Alliance

Nio’s electric cars are expected to be launched on the European market, and therefore also in Germany, by the end of this year. But now Audi is suing for trademark infringement. And that’s not the only hurdle the Chinese electric car maker has to overcome.

Nio wants to launch its vehicles in Germany for the first time at the end of the year. However, the designations of two Nio models cause problems with Audi. VW premium subsidiary filed a lawsuit against the Chinese manufacturer in a Munich court. The reason: Audi sees its trademark rights violated in the models announced for Europe, as reported by “Handelsblatt”.

The Nio ES6 and ES8 SUVs are expected to come very close to the type designations of Audi electric models. “Like many successful companies, Audi is always careful to protect its trademark rights comprehensively,” the German carmaker told the newspaper. The opponent has chosen model designations for the European market “which, in our opinion, infringe the Audi brands”. Legal clarification of the matter is currently pending, which is why Audi declined to disclose further details.

Nio declined to comment on “an ongoing process”. For the Chinese premium brand, however, the lawsuit comes at the worst possible time. The company, founded in 2014, has long been selling electric cars in China and has been delivering the Nio ES8 to its customers in Norway since last September, but now plans to establish itself further in Europe.

After Norway, Nio’s first European market development, this year the company wants to expand its overall concept to the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. In this country, the Chinese electric car maker wants to compete primarily with Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Additionally, the ET7 will appear at the start of sales in Germany in the fourth quarter. The sedan is comparable to a Mercedes E-Class or a BMW 5 Series. The Nio ES6 and ES8 SUVs affected by the lawsuit are not expected to hit the German market initially. However, the vehicles are already being shown at auto conventions, with Nio removing the type designations of the two models.

However, the launch of Nio on the European market is not easy

Not just because of the Audi lawsuit, European business shouldn’t be easy for Nio. Why the operation of Nio vehicles differs from other electric cars in terms of battery charging: The manufacturer relies on interchangeable batteries, so that its cars mainly go to battery changing stations rather than conventional charging stations.

The former are still relatively rare and, like the charging station infrastructure, still need to be expanded. As of December 2021, Nio had a total of 700 battery changing stations and by the end of 2025 there are expected to be 4,000 active change stations worldwide, including around 1000 outside China. In addition, the Shell charging network in Europe is also expected to be available for Nio users.

Experts consider the Audi lawsuit useless

Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, professor of automotive at the Center Automotive Research (CAR) in Duisburg, criticizes the lawsuit against Nio. He says, “The likelihood of confusion between an SUV and a sedan is pretty low.” Audi’s approach is “counterproductive”. Finally, the procedure could also be negatively received in China, where Audi is one of the most important suppliers of premium vehicles.

However, Stefan Bratzel, a professor at Bergisch Gladbach’s Center of Automotive Management (CAM), doesn’t believe that a single lawsuit can dissuade the Chinese automaker from his plan. “They are getting stronger and stronger in electromobility,” said Bratzel. In China, manufacturers such as BYD, Geely and Nio have emerged who are absolutely competitive with established suppliers.

Sources: Handelsblatt, Nio, ADAC

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