What's in a (car)
Of course, sometimes even the
best intentions go awry. When Pontiac came
out with a crossover SUV with a design that
left many scratching their heads, it didn't
help that it had been named Aztek. Critics
panned both the design and the name, a play
on the name of an ancient Mexican civilization.
Forbes deemed it among the worst
car names in the industry. Discontinued a
few years ago, the car is generally considered
The jury is still out on other
creative names, such as Touareg, Volkswagen's
first sortie into the SUV market. Touareg
(pronounced TWA- reg) appears to be inspired
by the nomadic "tuareg" tribe of
the Sahara -- a strong, highly adaptable people
who could thrive in hostile environments.
But some researchers say the tuareg tribes
were slave holders and yet others say the
word implies a people "abandoned by God."
A name may not make or break the success of a vehicle or a brand, but it sometimes gains traction -- and longevity -- that few could anticipate. "Edsel" and "failure" often go hand in hand, for example.
numbers, and meaning
To circumvent the thorny problem of a bad
car name, some companies have avoided the
issue altogether by using only a combination
of letters and numbers to identify a car:
Volvo, for example, offers an S-series of
sedans (S40, S60 and S80); a C-series of coupes
(C30 and C70) a V series of wagons (V50 and
V70) and an XC-series for cross country vehicles
(XC70 and XC90).
"The idea is for it to
be easy for our customers to know exactly
what Volvo car they are buying," says
Volvo spokesman James Hope. "We are Swedish.
It's in our blood to be simple."
Scion's model names are a slight variation on that
theme, offering the xA, xB, and tC. While
the letters themselves don't have much of
a back story (the second letter represents
the order in which the cars were introduced),
the capitalization is a bit of a departure,
says Takahashi. She says the use of the convention
was "a means of standing out from the
typical alpha or alphanumeric naming, where
all letters are capitalized."
While this strategy ensures
that there will be no bad associations with
the name, it offers a different potential
pitfall: anonymity. "If you walk into
a dealer's showroom, and a salesperson says
'Let me take you over to a QY5,' and you say,
'What's a QY5?' then that's an indication
of failure," says Meyers. "If you
can't remember it, then it didn't have its
Of course, while many cars try to invoke particular
reactions among buyers -- the Chevrolet Volt,
a hybrid concept car, suggests electricity,
environmental friendliness and a new way of
transportation in the 21st century -- some
names get by on the sheer dint of longevity.
The Camry name might mean nothing to American
buyers (it's a phonetic transcription of the
Japanese word for "crown), but its solid
performance and reliability has made it a
well-known name in the industry.
While naming a car might seem to be fraught with peril, Meyers puts the challenge in perspective: "It's important to be appealing. But as long as you can sell the cars to the people you want to sell them to, that's enough."