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Automakers’ confusing name game

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Posted: 11 am ET

It looks like Toyota's rollout of a wagon version of its popular Prius hybrid car could be accompanied by some buyer confusion, thanks to a naming snafu. From James Healey at USA Today:

Toyota is expanding its Prius hybrid brand into a family, and the first addition is the Prius v, essentially a Prius wagon. That's a small v for "versatility." Drive On was at Toyota's introduction event this week for Prius v, on sale this fall at a still-to-be-revealed price that will be "a little more," Toyota says, than the sedan.

Wait, we asked, isn't there a Prius V already? The Prius sedan trim levels have long been named with Roman numerals, and the top trim is the Prius V.

Uh, yes, Toyota concedes, but the plush sedan has an upper-case V vs. the wagon's lower case. And anyway, the sedan trims have been renamed, effective immediately, the Prius Two through Five (English), not the II through V (Roman).

Getting cute with names to the detriment of clarity is definitely not a Toyota-only phenomenon. Just as Toyota will apply the "Prius" name into an entire lineup of vehicles,  Chrysler recently converted Ram  into a separate nameplate, distinct from the long-standing Dodge brand.

Messing with brands can sometimes have unintended effects for shoppers and owners. I love my Mazdaspeed 3, but it certainly made life difficult for the customer service reps at my insurance company, who couldn't find the Mazdaspeed brand anywhere in their database.

Beyond tricky branding, I think what has become the industry norm of naming cars with a mishmash of letters and numbers can also make life tough for car buyers. Are the Acura RL and the Acura TL so similar they can really only be one letter apart? Quick, what's the difference between a Mercedes GL and a GLK? A Cadillac CTS and an STS?

Sure, people who follow the auto industry carefully can distinguish between the seemingly random combinations floating in this alphanumeric soup, but I yearn for the old days when the vast majority of cars had a good solid name, preferably of a fearsome predator such as a cougar or falcon. What do you think? Are car names too confusing?

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