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There’s No Such Thing As A Bad Name For A Good Car

In spite of the fact the naming of new automobiles is one of the most arcane and over-intellectualized elements of the auto industry, when all is said and done the name is all but academic if the car is good. And the best damned name in the world will do little to redeem a miserable excuse for an automobile. Perhaps a few examples are called for. When it comes to the lame name for a accomplished automobile a few rise to the top…
Jim Hall, VehicleVoice correspondent and head of AutoPacific‘s Industry Analysis office ponders the naming conundrum.
Mazda Miata Good Car, Good Name, Now the MX-5
Mazda has decided to go back to its original name for the extremely popular Miata sports car. Now the car is officially the MX-5 and Miata is no longer “officially” used. Reportedly, when Mazda was testing potential names in focus groups (none of which were ever chosen), one participant almost came out of his chair when he saw a photo of the Miata prototype and said, “I don’t care what they call it, I would call it MINE!” Well, that is the kind of reaction you want when naming a car, but now millions are spent figuring out what combination of letters and numbers to use to name a car. Oh yeah, how was the Miata named? The Mazda Product Planner for the car at the time was flipping through a dictionary one day and came upon a word that sounded good and meant something good in German. Sold. Cheap, effective research.

Honda Civic – Lame Name Hasn’t Hurt Civic Sales Over the Years
Honda Civic – When you think about it this is a pretty lame moniker for a car. “Civic center,” “civic leader,” “civics” seem to connote some gray bureaucratic element of local government or a devastatingly boring class from grammar school. Okeh, when it was introduced in the early 1970s the Civic was one small automobile… kinda like a “city car.” So why not call it a City (a name used a decade later for a Japanese market entry smaller than the Civic)? But when all was said and done, the Civic’s name didn’t kneecap the little car in the marketplace and it sold in spite of it’s badge. The model went on to make a bad name good on the strength of the subsequent versions. That Honda has been able to perform this transmutation of a lousy name on more than one occasion (think Accord and Prelude) is a testament to the company’s engineering rather than naming or marketing or expertise.
Volkswagen Golf – Golf the Sport? Or Golf the Wind (in German)?
Volkswagen Golf – Oh pulheez! Why ever would you name a car after a sport that isn’t one? Well, first off while the name in German is the same as that arcane pastime from Scotland, it is also the same as “gulf” as in “gulfstream.” Back in the early seventies, VW was naming their newest cars after winds, Passat and Scirocco. Gulf/Golf was the next in line. Volkswagen passed more “wind cars” over the following years like the Jetta, Bora, Vento and others. Admittedly the original Golf was marketed in the United States as the Rabbit and this turned out to be a good thing for the company. Unlike the car that built the company in North America, the Beetle, the Rabbit was the antithesis of durable, dependable transportation. Owners of those first generation cars experienced vehicle failures theretofore unknown on the planet. After an abortive plan to “Americanize” the Rabbit VW execs realized they had a turkey of a rodent on their hands and dumped the Rabbit badge when the second generation car was launched in the North America as the Golf. In the subsequent iterations of the Golf (especially the third and fourth generations) the name was validated.
Toyota Camry – A Machine-Derived Name? NO – It Actually Has a Source
Toyota Camry – Anybody have an idea where this name came from? It’s Japanese for “Crown.” Toyota’s first passenger car imported to these shores was the Toyopet (yes!) Crown. By the mid-1970s the Crown was excised from the Toyota lineup and effectively replaced by the ineptly named Cressida (which was at one time going to be called the “Clarence”. Really). When Toyota decided to market its largest front drive car in the U.S. it came up with the name Camry. Since they were intent on a Japanese name I suppose we should be happy they didn’t pick Hamachi.


Dogs with Great Names
Then there are the pathetic vehicles that were graced with names that were, or should have been winners. These well demonstrate that the best name in the world can’t save an awful automobile…
Plymouth Volare – Volare is Italian for “fly.” As in soar through the sky. Along with its Dodge twin the Aspen it was one of the most recalled cars in automotive history. The Volare tended to soar back to it’s nest in the dealer’s service department on the end of a hook.
Ford Aspire – Here was the plan, take one Kia-built Mazda of questionable quality and performance. Badge it as the Aspire and watch the customers be drawn to said machine as bees to honey. The reality turned out to be most people who found themselves sentenced to one of these little imported Fords aspired to buy something else as soon as humanly possible. A great name squandered on one serious lash-up of a car.
Pontiac LeMans – When the Daewoo-built Pontiac LeMans debuted, the car’s name was well-established in the marketplace and had been applied to some of the best mid-size cars General Motors ever made. But after an ill-conceived move to an alpha-numeric naming scheme (remember T1000, 2000, 6000LE?) in the early 1980s the company thought the badge steeped in history would be just the thing to jump-start sales of Pontiac’s first imported car since the Vauxhall Victor adventure of 1959~1960. The quality, or more accurately the lack thereof, of the cars from Daewoo was astonishing. Even by mid-to-late 1980s GM standards. So over six model years (1988 through 1993) this tin bucket of a car all but destroyed the once valuable Le Mans name.

As for alpha-numeric or just plain numeric names, they’re the path of least resistance for automakers concerned about the sausage making-like method of devising names for cars and trucks. I used to think there was no such thing as a bad alpha-numeric moniker for a car until I spotted the trunklid of the Chinese Geely small car on display at this year’s Detroit Auto Show…

Wow, MR7151A! Kinda rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? And that is the actual alignment of the badge. Wow!

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