If we gave you just the three letters “GTI” to work with, and asked you to name a car, chances are very good it would be Volkswagen’s GTI
. After all, the Golf derivative has been one of the world’s most beloved hot hatchbacks since it hit the market in 1976 (in Europe, anyways), and many of us have our own GTI stories to tell.
In 2004, Volkswagen raised issue with Suzuki’s use of the “Swift GTi” nameplate, as it potentially created confusion for customers. Suzuki had been approved to use the GTi descriptor (note the lower case “i”) by Europe’s Office for Harmonization in the International Market (OHIM) the year before, as long as it was tied to the “Swift” model name.
After an eight-year delay, The Malaysian Insider
reports that the case was finally heard by Europe’s second-highest court, the General Court of the European Union. It found in favor of Suzuki, agreeing with the OHIM that any “visual, phonetic or conceptual similarity” between the two cars was negated by the Swift model name.
In addition, the court ruled that, “the average customer... would not assume that all vehicles, parts and accessories come from the same manufacturer simply on the basis of the three letters ‘gti,’ and accordingly any likelihood of confusion was excluded.”
Volkswagen says it will review the ruling and possibly appeal to Europe’s highest court, the European Court of Justice. The legal case hasn’t helped the relationship between Volkswagen and Suzuki, which was entered into with great optimism from both companies in 2009.
In the years since, differences of opinion in both business and cultural matters have poisoned the relationship between the automakers. Suzuki
has attempted to break free of the alliance, but Volkswagen refuses to sell its nearly 20-percent ownership
in the Japanese automaker.
Suzuki views this as damaging its chances to attract other automakers for strategic partnerships, and has filed for arbitration. Bloomberg
reports that a decision in the case isn’t expected until some time next year.