SAN FRANCISCO -- Volkswagen AG has tried to differentiate Volkswagen and Audi models. So when VW in September unveiled a 2005 Golf GTI sports car with a big grille similar to that of the redesigned 2005 Audi A6, it raised eyebrows.
Axel Mees, former head of Audi of America Inc., was no exception.
Asked about the similarity at a press event here on Nov. 8, nine days before he was fired, Mees said:
"It's certainly hard to understand. I asked the same question."
The layman may note that the grille on the Audi A6 is similar to the grille on the VW Golf GTI, which will debut in the United States in October. And consumers have noted the similarity on enthusiast Web sites.
But A6 designer Achim Badstuebner sees a clear distinction.
"I think it's a completely different approach," he says. "The GTI grille doesn't have chrome, and there's a completely different bar in the center."
The A6 is the first Audi to have the new grille. Audi plans to make the grille, nicknamed "big mouth" by some, a feature in all Audi redesigns.
Audi says its grille has design roots in Audi's racing history, particularly the Auto Union race cars from the 1930s. Auto Union became Audi NSU in 1969 as it merged with NSU, and then became Audi in 1985.
Badstuebner says it is important for a premium brand such as Audi to be easily recognized.
He says, "So what we did with the A6 is a very significant grille, which proudly shows the Audi rings."
You may e-mail Ralph Kisiel at