Audi Crosslane Coupé concept
If you like brainteasers, try to figure out the missing pieces in this: Q1, Q3, Q5, Q6, Q7, Q8, Q9. You don’t have to work at the NSA to figure out that Q2 and Q4 are missing, although that seems to have eluded Audi’s trademark lawyers about a decade ago. Audi planned to show a small Q2 crossover (believed to look like the 2012 Crosslane concept, above) at the Geneva auto show in March, and to build a sporty Q4 variant of the hot-selling Q3, but it couldn’t do it. Not because of engineering challenges or cash shortages, but because Fiat (now FCA) owned the trademarks to Q2 and Q4.
FCA always made it clear that the names weren’t for sale. The contingency for Audi was to call the Q2 the Q1, which robbed Audi of the chance to deliver an even smaller crossover off the upcoming Volkswagen T-Cross junior off-roader, which will be based off the VW Polo/Audi A1 architecture. There was no contingency for the Q4 problem.
But it’s all settled now because Audi CEO Rupert Stadler made a phone call, then made another couple of phone calls, and it’s all been resolved, with the Volkswagen Group swapping trademarks with FCA. Speaking at the Detroit auto show, Stadler said that not only had he locked in Q2 and Q4, but that Audi had trademarked RSQ and SQ versions of all nine of its Q names—just in case.
Stadler said that getting the names had been a straight business transaction ten years in the making, with each party ultimately having “found something we needed.” While the cynical would say FCA needed cash, Stadler insisted no money changed hands, and neither did any engineering expertise or patents. “We promised each other we wouldn’t disclose what it cost, but it was not something they were willing to just sell,” Stadler admitted. “We tried to get it years ago and they said ‘No, never.’ But there is never ‘never’ in business.”
“ “We tried to get it years ago and they said ‘No, never.’ But there is never ‘never’ in business.” ”
“This year I went back to them with a proposal and we talked and there were some negotiations and then we agreed to it.” When asked if Audi had swapped trademarks with FCA, Stadler replied: “Something very much like that, yes.”
The Q2 trademark has been held by Alfa Romeo as a name for a limited-slip differential technology that has morphed from mechanical to electronic control, while Q4 most recently sat on the rump of Maserati’s Quattroporte and Ghibli models to denote all-wheel drive.
Audi, for its part, is no stranger to Italian-language names, with the most obvious being its shorthand for all-wheel drive, “Quattro,” which means “four” in Italian. But Quattro was never on the table, Stadler said.
Audi used Duo in 1997, Avantissimo for a concept car in 2001, and Nuvolari on another one in 2003. Nuvolari could be an interesting connection, because it was named after legendary prewar racer, Tazio Nuvolari, who won Grands Prix for both Alfa Romeo and Audi’s forerunner, Auto Union. But that’s about it inside Audi’s history for potential Fiat, Lancia, Maserati, or Alfa Romeo names, other than Nardò, the Italian test track owned by the Volkswagen Group.
Alfa Romeo needs more names to deliver on its promises of a five-car comeback, but its recent history is one of rifling through the archives to come up with stuff like Giulia and Giulietta, although MiTo (a combination of Alfa’s Milano heritage and Torino, where it’s now headquartered) was inventive, in an odd way.
Alfa, however, isn’t the only FCA brand that needs names, and here’s where it gets interesting. Luxury brand Maserati has a history of wind names that’s almost as long as its history of nearly going broke before being rescued. It’s had Mistral, named after a strong wind on the French Mediterranean coast, and Khamsin, named after a hot wind in northern Africa. More pointedly, Bora was used on two Maserati coupes (from 1973 to 1974, and from 1975 to 1980), but in the 1980s Maserati couldn’t afford to renew the trademark.
Enter Volkswagen. VW has also long been a fan of wind names (for reasons that have never been fully explained), including their mainstays of Golf (the German name for the Gulf Stream) and Passat (a trade wind), plus it still uses Sharan and Scirocco.
So Volkswagen snapped up the trademark for Bora (a wind the blows throughout the Balkans, along with Turkey, Poland, and Russia) and ruined the moniker’s supercar dignity by slapping it on a small car. But it hasn’t been used for two generations now, as the car it sat on became the Polo. Volkswagen also has the rights to Lupo, the Italian word for “wolf,” but it hasn’t used it since 2005.
So something in among all of that must have tweaked FCA’s fancy, because the Q2 badging will be seen on an Audi in Geneva in March, and the Q4 should arrive in 2019 or so.