DETROIT -- This marketing battle is brought to you by the letter "Q."
Nissan North America Inc. and its Japanese parent, Nissan Motor Co., are suing Audi AG, Audi of America Inc. and Volkswagen of America Inc.
Nissan alleges that Audi's first SUV, the Q7, infringes on the trademarks of the Q vehicles sold by Nissan's Infiniti brand.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, is scheduled for a nonjury trial next month.
Nissan says in its complaint it has spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" to promote the Infiniti Q45. Infiniti launched its flagship sedan in 1989.
By the end of last year, Nissan says, it had sold 122,751 new Q45s in the United States since the car's introduction. Audi says it expects to sell a total of 80,000 cars in the United States this year.
Nissan says it has registered "Q" trademarks in the United States for the Q45, QX4 and QX56. Audi's use of the letter in its vehicle name will cause consumer confusion and dilute Infiniti's Q models, Nissan alleges.
Infiniti launched the QX4 luxury SUV in 1996 and sold it through 2004. Infiniti started selling the QX56 SUV last year. It costs about $25 million to launch a new SUV in the United States.
Industry analysts say the lawsuit isn't likely to cost Audi much more than embarrassment should it lose. But the outcome of the lawsuit could establish legal policies for alphanumeric vehicle names, they add.
"This is a tempest in a teapot," says John Bulcroft, an auto consultant who led marketing for Audi in the 1970s.
If Nissan wins its lawsuit, Bulcroft says, Audi likely will have to change its marketing strategy. Otherwise, he says, the biggest damage to Audi would be "losing face."
Todd Turner, president of CarConcepts, a consulting firm in Thousand Oaks, Calif., says Audi should change the Q7's name before the company develops advertisements and other marketing materials.
"It's not that big a disaster if they change the name at this moment," Turner says.
Audi unveiled the Q7 at the Frankfurt auto show in last month. It is scheduled to reach U.S. dealerships in the spring. Audi plans a smaller Q5 SUV in a few years, according to court records.
Johan de Nysschen, executive vice president of Audi of America, told reporters in Detroit last month that the company took the Q7's name from Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system.
He would not comment on the Nissan lawsuit.
Nissan says in its lawsuit that it notified Audi of the alleged trademark infringement last December. It says "settlement discussions" with Audi failed to resolve the dispute.