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Vehicle Names: Seem Like Whimsy; Follow Formula

Vehicle Names: Seem Like Whimsy; Follow Formula

By Jeff Youngs, February 26, 2012
To consumers, it may seem that automotive brands pick names for their vehicles by throwing some Scrabble tiles in the air, picking them up one by one, and then using whatever results for their next new model.

But as Zlati Meyer explained in a recent column in the Detroit Free Press, auto companies have a long, thorough, and analytical process for coming up with their model names, which rely on a handful of important factors including the current zeitgeist, obvious associations, tradition, internal naming mechanisms, and trying to stay away from problem terms. These processes don't always work flawlessly, even though automakers invest millions of dollars in them.

Buick named its new small crossover Encore partly because the name fit nicely with its larger SUV, Enclave, and, perhaps surprisingly, hadn't been trademarked by a competitor. Meanwhile, Buick picked Verano as the name for its new small sedan because it means "summer" in Spanish.

Toyota has stuck with Camry and Corolla for decades because they now have positive connotations. By contrast, Ford has gone back-and-forth with its Taurus name: It was attached to a new car in 1986, was America's best-selling car for many years, and then faded until the company eliminated the name in favor of the Five Hundred a few years ago. Now, it's back.

In some cases, naming seems simple. Audi uses numbers, and the bigger the number, the bigger the car. Mercedes-Benz uses letters. Chevrolet picked Volt and Nissan picked Leaf largely because of their "green" allusions.
And then there are some names that seem inevitable. When Chrysler was determining the designation for the new small car it is bringing out, there was an obvious name from the company's earlier days that hadn't been brought back: Dart. And so the Dodge Dart soon will be coming to dealers near you.

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