Audi defeats NIO in court over electric vehicle naming scheme

Audi took Chinese EV maker NIO to court and won over the naming of its electric vehicles. The Munich Regional Court ruled that the name of NIO’s EV models were too similar and could be confused with an electric Audi.

Audi wins in court over NIO EV model names

Audi initially sued NIO in 2021 over the protection of its S6 and S8 model names at the European Patent Office, citing the newcomer’s names sound too much like its own. According to German newspaper Automobilwoche, the court agreed with Audi on Thursday after over a 15-month-long battle.

The German court has ruled that two electric NIO SUVs, the ES6 and ES8, sound too similar to the German automaker’s existing S6 and S8 models.

Although the judge did note that NIO’s names were, in fact, different than Audi’s, the letter “E” was not enough to distinguish a difference because it can be confused with an “electric” Audi model.

Consumers may see this as simply a change from a gas-powered Audi to an electric one, agreeing with the premium automaker. The judge said:

There is a risk that consumers will assume that the ‘ES 6’ is the ‘S 6’ in the electric version, that the two vehicles are from the same manufacturer. There is therefore a transfer danger of confusion through association that goes beyond pure association.

The judgment is not final, and it’s expected NIO will appeal the decision. As of right now, NIO is prohibited from advertising the ES6 and ES8 in Germany and faces a fine of 250,000 euros (roughly $270,000) or up to six months in prison for the managing director of NIO Germany.

The NIO models are yet to be available in Germany. NIO did launch its first EV, the “ES7” model, in the region, renaming it to EL7 in October.

As you could presume, Audi welcomed the decision, saying its brands are “of central importance” and “we must protect them comprehensively.” Meanwhile, NIO is examining its next steps, including a likely appeal.

Electrek’s Take

On the one hand, it looks like a classic case of an established brand (Audi) picking on the new guy (NIO) in its home court. However, the names are nearly identical, and the judge makes a good point that consumers will likely get confused as Audi transitions to an all-electric lineup.

NIO has been expanding rapidly, delivering 122,486 EVs in 2022, primarily in its home market of China. But, the EV startup held its European launch event in October, celebrating its launch in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, as it looks to expand its territory.

Many applauded the expansion, but German auto manufacturers, which are converting their own lineups to electric, are likely not happy about the new competition.

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