What’s In a Name?
For automakers in a competitive market a lot can depend on how their product is perceived by the fickle, status-conscious buyer. In such cases the choice of name can help to make the difference between success and failure.
As time goes on and models proliferate, finding the right name for a new car gets harder and harder. The more obvious ones were snapped up and trademarked long ago, and many premium makes like BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and Volvo stand aloof and simply use combinations of numbers and letters.
A name can, however, say something about a vehicle. Sometimes, in the case of Ford’s Transit van originally introduced in Europe in the 1960s, its very title becomes a generic word in the language summing up a whole class of vehicles.
Such names need to be short, snappy, and original as well as pronounceable in a range of different languages and not have any unfortunate meanings. Ideally they also should convey something aspirational about the vehicle, and thus the lifestyle of the owner.
There are lots of good names out there but let’s have a bit of fun and recall some of the ill thought-out or just plain bad ones.
Remember Lancia? The Italian make abandoned the US market nearly 30 years ago and now sells in a handful of European countries only. Questionable reliability and a reputation for rusting did much to harm the cars’ prospects, but Lancia’s choice of names certainly didn’t help its chances of hanging on in markets like the UK, which it finally abandoned in 1994.
Christening its crucial new mid-range saloon Dedra was not a brilliant masterstroke for an English speaking audience who already thought the company was ready for the last rites. Presumably Lancia’s marketing people didn’t think of this, nor did they realise the alphanumeric title of the company’s crucial Y10 city car would gain it the White Hen nickname in Britain.
VW itself persevered with its large European MPV, the Sharan, despite sneers in Britain when it was launched that it was too close to Sharon, perceived in the media as a downmarket girls name after the success of a TV comedy series about two prisoners’ wives called Sharon and Tracy. The car’s success shows a questionable name doesn’t always harm a good product, and the Sharan’s Spanish twin sister, the clumsily-titled Seat Alhambra has also prospered over a remarkably long career.
Another car with a less-than-glamorous girl’s name, the Kia Joice, never made it to Britain, nor did Nissan use its Cedric or Gloria titles in the UK market, although it did sell successfully some very strangely named models in the 1970s and 1980s including the Cherry, Sunny and Violet.
France’s Citroen generally plumps for letters in its model names but miscalculated badly with two of its current van line-up, called Jumpy and Jumper on the European mainland, which had to be renamed Dispatch and Relay in the UK. Similarly the company’s previous large MPV, the Evasion, sounded to British ears like a car for tax dodgers, and was given the Synergie title instead.
Fiat went to great lengths to rename its Ritmo model the Strada in both the US and UK (allegedly because its name sounded like a grass cutting machine in English). Later Fiats, however, revelled in their exotic pronunciation, however, with the Cinquecento and Seicento requiring considerable tongue twisting. Another Italian company, Innocenti, actually reversed this trend and marketed a short-lived car called the Small, although only in its home market where the name must have sounded exotically English.
Some promising sounding titles can evolve into unfortunate nicknames. Ford’s Granada and Capri – named after a Spanish city and an Italian island respectively – became the “granddad” and the “crappy” in popular British lingo while Austin’s problematical Allegro model of the mid 1970s inevitably became “all aggro”.
Other geographical names simply sound strange in particular places. Volkswagen’s Derby was presumably named to evoke associations with the horse race rather than the dull British industrial city. Similarly, whoever named Cadillac’s Fleetwood had obviously never been to the run down port of the same name in England’s Northwest.
Makers sometimes resort to acronyms such as that foisted on Suzuki’s Liana (it apparently stands for “life in a new age”), even if title hardly seems justified for such an ordinary little car (it got the Aerio moniker in the US). Even more forgettable was the Alfa Romeo Arna, a disastrous 1980s marriage between Italian mechanicals and Japanese bodywork, whose name simply stood for the ill-fated Alfa Romeo Nissan Autoveicoli partnership.
Arguably the worst offender among makes currently on sale is the Korean manufacturer Ssangyong (itself not the most pronounceable marque name in the world). The company’s current line up includes the Kyron and Actyon but my current favourite is its bizarre-looking MPV, the Ssangyong Rodius, which has a name as undesirable as its appearance.
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