How Do Automakers Actually Go About Naming Their Cars?

When you think about it, cars have rather unusual names. Whether it’s ‘Touareg’, ‘Corsa’ or ‘Leon Cupra’, they all seem a bit random. But automakers are actually meticulous when it comes to their names. Here’s where they get them from…

The Car’s Character

Engineers can put together a car with a particular set of performance specifications and physical characteristics. What they often cannot do, however, is market the vehicle in a way that maximises the amount of people who want to buy it. This is where marketing comes into play. Automakers will rely on their marketing departments to determine who the car will most likely appeal to and how best to capture their attention. They do this by emphasising the character and feel of the vehicle. Calling a Nissan Micra a ‘Nissan Juggernaut’ or a Toyota Prius a ‘Toyota Warlord’ probably isn’t going to work. In other words, the name does (in some way) have to match the car.

Trademark Minefields

After a name or, more likely, names have been decided on marketing and legal teams have to consider any trademark battles. For instance, a ‘Ford Golfer’ would probably attract some irate attention from Volkswagen. It doesn’t always have to be that obvious, either. Automakers and a host of other companies often sit on old and unused trademarked terminology and branding. Even if they’ve got no interest in using them, you can bet that they’ll jump at the opportunity to win a quick payout in the courts. So automakers have to be methodical and patient, ensuring they’ve chosen a name that won’t land them in hot water later down the line; it also makes it harder and harder to conjure up something fresh, as more and more trademarks are filed.

Foreign Language Faux Pas

Imagine that, after many months of marketing meetings, you finally get your managers to agree on a new car’s name. It sounds sleek and sharp and, in your opinion, will sell the car in of itself. You put your feet up and bask in your seeming success. Unfortunately, you can’t go ahead. Isabella from Madrid has been giggling hysterically; it turns out your new name means something rather rude in Spanish; a language used by many of your company’s favoured markets; so, it’s back to the drawing board. Whilst this might sound unlikely, it has gotten some car manufacturers in trouble. Take the Chevy Nova, in Spanish ‘no va’ means ‘doesn’t go.’ The Hyundai Kona gets laughs in Portugal, as ‘cona’ refers to female anatomy. In France, the Audi TT Coupe is pronounced like ‘tete coupé’, or ‘cut off head.’ This isn’t particularly important if it’s a language that isn’t used by a company’s customers, but it’s a consideration nonetheless.

But What’s Really In A Name?

In theory, a good car should sell well. Most of us would probably understand such a car to be reliable, comfortable and (perhaps most importantly) safe. But one thing marketing professionals have learnt is that having a good product simply isn’t enough. Why? Because there’s often a lot of them on the market. Good names essentially define a product and cars are no different. Ford’s Focus and Fiesta models are so popular in the UK as to have become iconic; you don’t need to reference Ford itself in speech. ‘Focus’ is precise and crisp, whereas ‘Fiesta’ sounds entertaining and exciting. Short, punchy and well-researched names can’t make a car ‘good’, but they can mean the difference between being forgotten and becoming a best-seller.

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