GM Displays Model-Name ADD Again, Changing Aveo to Sonic

By Chris Haak

One doesn’t need to dig very deeply into the history books to see that GM has shown a pattern of releasing a vehicle that – to put it kindly – did not meet expectations, only to replace that vehicle with a new model after that generation.  According to the pattern, the new vehicle gets a new name as well, even if it’s filling in almost exactly the same position in the market.

Though this phenomenon is not limited to Chevrolet small cars, let’s take a look at them specifically.  The Vega hit the scene in 1971 (one generation only), followed by its Monza derivative in 1975 (one generation only).  Then the Cavalier hit the market in 1982 (which saw two LONG generations), the Cobalt in 2005 (one generation), and the Cruze in 2011.  Since 1969, Toyota has never changed the name of its car in this class:  you may have heard of it.  It’s called the Corolla.

GM no doubt felt that nameplates such as the Vega had a lot of baggage due to the sub-par products they were attached to (they were probably right).  The Cavalier was probably never a class-leading vehicle, and the Cobalt – solid transportation that it was – was a car that was benchmarked against competitors that were ending their life cycles.

I don’t mean to criticize GM alone for this attention-deficit problem; though the Corolla name has lived for over 40 years continuously, the Tercel name was unceremoniously dropped in 1999, followed by the Echo (just one generation), then the Yaris (still in its first generation).  But really, why bother changing the name, when the obvious solution is to just build a better car in the first place?  Changing names with each generation (or every other generation) confuses buyers who want to buy a new Cobalt (“sorry, they don’t make it anymore”) and could cause some buyers to become suspicious of the company’s motives for the name change (“are they trying to trick me with the name change?”)

So now we find ourselves entering 2011, and GM has shown the world its 2011 Chevrolet Aveo subcompact.  Forget everything you knew about the dorky, plasticky Aveo sold between 2004 and 2010; the new model was to be built in the US instead of South Korea, get better fuel economy, have a nicer interior, and (importantly), look ten times more hip than the stereotypical econobox look the old Aveo sported.

Only thing is, the Aveo dies with the current generation.  Yes, another one-hit wonder in the revolving door of GM model names.  The new car will be called the Chevrolet Sonic, and that name will be applied globally (the car is to be sold in Europe, Asia, and Australia, at the very least).  I was never a huge fan of the Aveo name, but I’m even less of a fan of changing names with every generation.  Plus, “Sonic” carries all sorts of potentially negative connotations such as “Sonic Boom,” “Sonic the Hedgehog,” and whatever else creative folks who don’t work for GM might come up with.

The alternative, of course, is to keep the Aveo name.  Now, it took me about a year to realize that the car’s name is prounced “a-VAY-oh” rather than “a-VEE-oh,” but I have that down pat now (as I should, having seen the car on the market for the past seven model years).  GM even made this choice with the Malibu.  The modern, front wheel drive Malibu is now in its third generation, and the car is finally a respectable vehicle.  In spite of GM’s best efforts to kill the Malibu name by attaching it to the N-body-based car between 1997 and 2003, then on the Epsilon-based Rubbermaid Limited Edition Malibu between 2004 and 2007, the company kept the historical name alive and it’s now thriving, selling only a few thousand units behind the media darling Ford Fusion so far in 2011.

There’s a saying that most of us have heard before: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  While I think that may be untrue in some cases (GM would never, ever dare name another car ‘Vega,’ for example), the Aveo was not a horrible car, nor was the Cobalt.  Just as GM proved with the Malibu, wrapping a competent vehicle in an attractive wrapper, and backing it with a big-dollar marketing campaign is a recipe for success, no matter what name is on the back of the car.  Starting over from square one with a brand new name seems like it’s not money well-spent.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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3 Comments

  1. Toyota did have some name change game on some occasions; before the Camry, there was the Corona. I spotted some vintage ads on Youtube to refresh our memories. 😉
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiEK3oSAKiE
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaJXqUwMoQk
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vqQYXX2EIo
    Before the Yaris, there was the Echo who replaced the…Tercel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ED2r3wPio-A and the Avalon replaced the Cressida. Nissan replaced the Stanza by Altima in 1993.

    I also heard some rumors then the Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare was intented to be originally called Dart and Valiant but Chrysler wanted a more upscale image and the Dart/Valiant monikers except the Duster was associated with old peoples.

    I think with the recent troubles then the Camry faced (as well as the demographic buyer problem since the Camry is viewed now as a “grandpa’s car”), Toyota could drop the Camry moniker.

    Ironically, in Brazil, the J-body variant was sold as the Monza http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BTa4eEqAH4 and here Buick used the Skyhawk moniker used for the Monza variant for a J-body model as well as Pontiac who revived the Sunbird to replace the J2000 moniker.

  2. I’ve come to *LIKE* “Sonic”!! …just shows ya; even ADD can be a GoodThing … in moderation 😉
    &
    anything is better than A V E O
    even … “MKA” … almost ( Lincoln<poke )
    &
    ^ it'd be very interesting if TM changed the Camry name
    &
    ^ GM *needs* to find a vehicle to call "MONZA"!!
    maybe a sport Cruze?

  3. I don’t see the Camry name going anywhere for a long time, at least not until Camry sales are a fraction of their current level and until they take less prominence in terms of Toyota’s overall US sales. I don’t expect that it will last forever, though.

    The Monza name would be pretty cool to see again. Funny how that name is more or less OK, but Vega is radioactive (and rightfully so!) http://www.autosavant.com/2009/07/20/the-cars-that-killed-gm-chevrolet-vega/

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