What Were They Thinking?
It is a tricky business finding a good name when the time comes to market your new product and it is no different in the auto industry. So many disastrous naming events have befallen automakers that it seems nowadays they have given up coming up with names altogether. How many A4s and C1s and 328s and 525s and i30s do there have to be on the world market before this trend toward alpha-numeric nomenclature finally backfires?
Let’s be honest—the letter and number naming system really only works for Audi, BMW and Mercedes because they could sell their cars with names like “Flaming Hot Mess” or “Gigantic Piece of Junk” and people would still buy them. In the more mainstream end of the sector it is the icons of naming like “Accord,” “Camry,” “Mustang,” “Jetta” and “Civic” that hold most sway with buyers.
Other manufacturers, it seems, can never seem to stick to one name for their cars. How many times has the model formerly known as the Chevy Cavalier had a name change? Cavalier then Cobalt and soon to be Cruze. These are all Chevy economy cars and they all share the one trait of being woefully average.
But no naming story is as bizarre as that of the Ford Taurus. Launched originally in 1986 to big sales (even to private buyers) and an adoring press, the first Taurus was stylistically groundbreaking. A slug-like redesign in 1996 did not help sales and drove the Taurus forever into the unforgiving arms of the nation’s rental car fleet. When Ford redesigned their full size sedan they not only sucked out any remaining personality but they also changed the name to 500. But this was not to be the end of the Taurus name.
A couple of years later as the 500 languished way behind in the sales race, then new Ford Chairman Alan Mulally decided that the Taurus name still had some cachet. But instead of attaching it to a great new design he just slapped it on the back of the dull as dishwater 500 hoping it would jump start sales. It sadly, did not. But 2009 is set to be the true test of the Taurus nameplate as Ford is using the moniker for its new drop dead gorgeous full size sedan. Yes, people, the Taurus is back and it’s looking good. You might even want to buy one and not just rent one for that weekend in Boca Raton.
As philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who do not remember their history are doomed to repeat it.” Let’s just hope automakers are aware of this fact.
Chevy Nova—This is possibly the biggest screw up in General Motors history and in honor of their filing for Chapter 11 we will giddily rehash it here. The Nova was a name used for many Chevy economy models sold all over the world, including Spanish speaking countries. In Spanish, the words “No Va” mean “Doesn’t Run.” The car was essentially advertising its unreliability on the trunklid. That the naming problem wasn’t discovered during the Nova’s production run from 1962-1988 is further evidence of GM’s all encompassing incompetence.
Kia C’eed—A rebadged European version of the new Hyundai Elantra Touring, this Kia hatchback is a truly worthwhile vehicle with a cringe worthy name. A take on the word “seed,” this name is probably the reason that the identical European Hyundai version of this car continues to outsell its unfortunately named Kia sister 3 to 1.
Suzuki Grand Vitara—If you don’t have at least one friend who saw this name and said, “More like Suzuki Grand Viagra” then perhaps your friends are too mature. Although this SUV had the “Vitara” name before the erectile dysfunction pill became world famous, Suzuki really should have changed it by now.
Ford Probe—Really now, do I have to explain why the word “Probe” might have unpleasant associations to many people? And can you imagine the jokes if a proctologist drove one?
AMC Gremlin—Take a compact 70’s hatchback that looked like a hunchbacked monster and give it a scary name and you have one of the biggest automotive disasters in history. In hindsight you do have to admire the humorous takes on automotive styling embodied by AMC classics like the Gremlin and Pacer but in a cut throat market place laughs don’t sell. That’s why companies like AMC aren’t in business anymore.