Daft, uninspired and sometimes downright rude! Car names and why?
Wondrously entertaining, frequently invigorating and nominally frustrating, the motor industry spends a fortune on naming its new cars (and protecting copyrights), states Iain Robertson, who’s almost come a cropper with some of the crapper examples.
Traipsing around the world testing motorcars has been an eye-opening experience over the past 42 years. However, spending time with locals, enjoying their languages and their senses of humour does not always lead to greater understanding. Yet, if one thing unites many nationalities, it is ‘toilet humour’ and, until you have visited the Museo Della Merda, in Piacenza, Italy, you might never fully comprehend how true that statement is. It is a matter that did not stop Isuzu from naming its compact tipper truck the Giga 20 Light Dump but then Mazda went for a larger load with its Titan Dump.
One of the most amazing cars that I have driven in my career was the Mitsubishi Minica Dangan Bullet ZZ Turbo 20-4, an intriguingly complicated, tiny, Japanese ‘Kei-class’ city car that, had the name been attached to its hatchback door, available space would have been at a premium. Yet, for cars that have been created to meet fiscal demands (most are powered by a maximum of 660cc three-cylinder petrol engines and are smaller than a smart car), the model naming policies have been fluid to say the least.
Try the following for size: Suzuki Every Joypop Turbo (a tiny window-van), Honda Life Dunk (a teensy hatchback), Mazda Carol Me Lady (an equally teensy hatchback), Nissan Homy Super Long (a people-carrier), or Geely Rural Nanny (a Chinese…sorry but it had to be included…pickup truck). However, I cannot leave this region without recalling the Mazda Bongo Frendee, Toyota Deliboy, Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard 4×4, Mazda LaPuta, Nissan’s Cedric and Gloria, or the Honda That’s.
It is true to suggest that translation may lie behind some misunderstandings…take for instance the wonderful Mitsubishi Starion, a sporty coupe of the 1980s and 1990s that pursued a Japanese fascination for the American automotive classification that fell into what became known as ‘Pony Cars’, e.g. Ford Mustang, Dodge Charger, Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro. As no carmaker had used the word ‘Stallion’ to describe its dashing coupe model, Mitsubishi felt that Starion fitted the bill (it is a pity that the Japanese often confuse their pronunciation of Rs and Ls, as evinced by their insistence that the motor sport known as Rallycross be pronounced as ‘Larrycloss’).
When Mazda launched its early-1990s rival to Honda’s Acura, Toyota’s Lexus, or Nissan’s Infiniti up-market brands, it felt that Xedos was appropriate. The problem lay in pronunciation, as Mazda insisted that a name which sounded more like Moses leading his people to a Land of Milk and Honey, should be enunciated as ‘Ker-Said-Oss’. It was intriguing to say the least but no more so than Vauxhall’s costly attempts (reputedly in excess of £500,000 spent) to get people to place the emphasis on the ‘O’ and not the ‘E’ of Omega, which only seemed to upset classic Greek scholars and Vauxhall marketing personnel.
On the other hand, simple mis-spelling may have caused Subaru to lose control over the name of its 2016 sporty estate car, the Levorg, which could look like ‘groveL’ in the rear-view mirror. Mind you, there never was much confusion about a car that I rechristened as ‘Le Shed’, when I ran a long-term test example in the late-noughties. The Peugeot Partner Tepee Outdoor 1.6HDi was, for want of a better description, a van-derived-car, which proved more impressive for its 4,000-litres of load-space. It was clear that my renaming of it had some mileage, as no less than 38 customers placed orders with the local Peugeot dealer for ‘Le Shed’, which did cause some Head Office consternation.
Some more modern motorcars have enjoyed thought-provoking nomenclature…take, for instance, the Volkswagen Tiguan, which combines ‘tiger’ and ‘iguana’ in its model name. Hmmm…really interesting! Even more recently, the Kia Stinger has led to some fascinating motoring headlines for its ridiculous name that is sure to repel as many potential buyers, as grab the attention of the bemused. However, mis-naming models is not unfamiliar ground to even the most prestigious of brands, as the Ferrari LaFerrari or Bentley Bentayga underscore, while the Maserati Quattroporte is about as self-explanatory as any four-door saloon needs to be.
We can all have a chuckle at the Renault Wind, a compact convertible of 2010, or the equally challenging Kadjar of more recent vintage but, reflecting on the aforementioned Mitsubishi Minica, it had a derivative called Lettuce, for which we might all pray. Having mentioned the unfortunate Mazda LaPuta, which translates from Spanish as ‘whore’, it is worth highlighting that the Mitsubishi Pajero possesses a masturbatory connotation in Spain, while the Nissan Moco translates as an Iberian nasal bogey. Staying on that peninsula, the Chevrolet Nova (a popular model in the US and as a Vauxhall elsewhere) was given no choice but to become the Corsa, as ‘it doesn’t go’ is not an sure-fire encouragement to buy one. However, neither the Opel Ascona, or Honda Fitta, would have found much purchase in Spain (and also in Sweden and Norway in the Honda’s case), as they translate into the rude slang versions of a lady’s genitalia.
Mind you, away from the Vauxhall Astra (or ‘Ashtray’, as some wags have it), or the Ford Probe, a sporting coupe of the 1990s, it is the devil’s own job to secure a model name for motorcars. Several companies have been established world-wide to register trade names (much like websites) and it is an enormous money-making machine, which Ford Motor Company discovered to its great distress, when it tried to name its family car the Sierra. It was a name already owned and used by a small and largely inconsequential British kit car manufacturer. Ford sued the little operator and lost large. Therefore, if you can get your tongue around Ssangyong, you might also get your head around the nightmare of naming motorcars. It’s tougher than you think!