Car Branding: A Bemused Joyride Into The Human Psyche
A Road Trip Through Car Names and Brands
“Theese Is My New Carrrrr” said Mr. Montalban. Amid the cacophony of 1970’s television advertising, there he was in a brown butterfly collar shirt. This was the guy who gave Shatner a run for his money as frenemy Khan on Star Trek.
Ricardo was even cooler than the Dos Equis guy (real name: Jonathan Goldsmith), out-Fernandoed Fernando Lamas. The lighting was sparse and the surfaces slick — perhaps dawn or dusk, light cast over a wetted tile or cobblestone area, horizon lines accentuating the slabside lines of the rebodied, repurposed former copcar/Satellite/Charger/Mrs. Brady station wagon chassis. There he stood, proud of this baroque masterpiece wrought by Chrysler, smoothly pitching the Cordoba, an American car made in Canada named after a place in Spain, offered with optional “Corinthian leather” perhaps from Corinth, which is in Greece, and pitched by a Mexican-American actor. Mr. Ricardo Montalban (real name: Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán y Merino) was clearly selling fantasy long before reaching the hedonistic, or at least dubious, shores of Fantasy Island.
He didn’t need Tattoo for this adventure. This car wasn’t plain, plain.
It marked a turning point in the way cars were branded, marketed and sold, but also the way they were named.
I’ve always been fascinated by cars and the automotive industry in general.
The advertising of Ogilvy & Mather, Campbell-Ewald and others took automotive branding and positioning to another level. Below are some spectacular ads created by Chevrolet/General Motors for the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise.
Despite the legacy founders of auto marques, it is an inevitable conclusion that we have Henry Ford (and his notion that the people who worked for him should be able to afford the simple, reliable vehicles that he produced) to thank for the evolution of our mobile society and the revolutions of steering wheels and wheels touching the ground.
Mr. Ford’s idea of affordable transportation was a radical departure at the time — from other marques which targeted wealthy buyers.
Perhaps without him even knowing it, he was the one who brought supply chain and manufacturing efficiencies, but more importantly, affordability and scale, to the marketing and consumer embrace of automobiles.
We don’t see many Packards, Duesenbergs, Auburns, Pierce Arrows, or Hispano-Suizas on the road these days. Henry figured out that mass production, lower price and operational efficiency would sell many more Fords than Cords. To this day, the man that gave America the mobility to create economic boom and a middle class, still sells cars bearing his name and trademark blue oval. Model-T, Model-A. Not inspiring, but it worked. No Corinthian leather, no hood ornaments, no bluetooth, and you could have “any color you wanted as long as it was black.” Often volume does not ensure profitability and quality, but in his case, it drove Ford there.
CARRYING THE BRAND
The names of vehicles themselves are an even more fascinating road trip into the human psyche — and we can chart this course and pinpoint decades — based on the nomenclature and constructive dynamics involved in naming these vehicles. At the intersection of branding “evoked emotion,” positive associations, and perhaps Rorschach tests, are the names of automobiles. Sometimes the law of unintended consequences sets in, with cars plagued by stodgy image, pigeonholed market position, or a complete lack of reception by the market. Sometimes it’s a great car limited by a bad choice of name. Ford’s Edsel, named after his son, was such a line, as was the Corvair, as was the case of the introduction of the Chevy Nova to Spanish-speaking countries — it’s name “No Va” which means “doesn’t go” drew more laughs than sales.
I think the most effective vehicle name ever was worn by the minivan known as the Caravan. The word CAR is in there; the word VAN is in there. The Caravan represents the unofficial motorcades of parents transporting kids to soccer, hockey, scouts, jiu jitsu, trampoline parks and birthday parties. Makes perfect sense. The Caravan was in fact derived from Iacocca’s K-Car, the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant twins which were simple, boxy, reliable (at least for a bit) front-wheel drive cars. From a single platform came evolutionary designs such as wagons, and sports cars, and convertibles clad with contact paper grade fake wood trim surrounded by pieces of actual hardwood. Surely the hardwood would hold up well in Michigan winters.
Wouldn’t it have made much more sense to call the (exploding on rear impact) Pinto the Firebird? How about Ford Fireball? Ford Flinto?
Names can be misnomers; they can be borderline absurd. The fact that a Buick LaCrosse is driven by someone with great grand-kids that play the game, that doesn’t make any sense. And, what the heck is a Lucerne? Sounds like a $2.99 wine you buy at Trader Joe’s to make sangria. Were these mere bolt-on names to pick up where LeSabre left off? LeSabre — The Sword. Must have been the same guy who named the Cutlass. More on that name later.
Accord. Simple name, concept. Reliable. Civic. Efficient, simple, reliable transportation. Honda’s sister company, luxury brand Acura — which created the category in the 1980’s by repositioning expensive-to-fix luxury cars from Germany and bloated gas guzzlers with poor handling from Detroit, with precise, fast, and well-finished lean luxury cars — has long ditched clean names like Legend and Integra with alphanumeric designations that resemble shirt monograms more than car names. RLX? MDX?
Hyundai and Kia cars have become ubiquitous. I understand what a Sonata is. I don’t know if a Cadenza is actually anything, actually. The W900. Not sure if that follows the normal German car convention of liter displacement and body designation, but it rather follows the naming conventions of Kenworth trucks and not Korean luxury sedans. Accent. Sounds like the name of a cheesy band that plays proms or the MSG stuff dads sprinkled on their TV dinners in the 70’s. Tucson, SantaFe, I get it. Places.
Then there’s Mr. Musk. Elon. Elon Musk. Splash it on. Sounds like 70’s cheesy aftershave like Rocky Balboa pitched in the Beast Aftershave commercial. Because he is a uberwealthy nerd he of course named his Playskool-Little Tykes looking cars with Model S, E (3), X, and Y. What do you follow that with now that you completed the word? Then there’s his truck which looks like a Delorean and a Pontiac Aztek had a love child that emerged 9 months and one day after a lost weekend. Yes they are fast as hell but I find the designs more soulless than a rental car.
Looking at car lines today, it’s easy to see the family resemblance between certain Hyundais and Kias, Acuras and Hondas, Toyota and Lexus, Ford and Lincoln, Chevrolet-Buick-Cadillac, e.g. Amidst the breakdown of the Sloan/GM brand hierarchy with the vanishing of Oldsmobile and Pontiac, there are more differences between Silverados and Sierras than just a few years ago — fewer shared body pieces and more variety at the nose and tail. Silverado sounds better than C-15 or C-1500. Chevrolet no longer uses politically insentitive tribal names like Apache (a line of 1950’s pickups) and Cheyenne (1970’s trucks) but somehow Jeep can still use Cherokee? Jeep itself was taken from G-P or “general purpose” — the military vehicle’s origins. Oddly just as Jeep ditched it, Pontiac used G-P on the Grand Prix of the 1960's.
If you truly want to see family resemblance in style and branding, look at all of the 1958 GM cars, a one year only design for the coupes and sedans, with the first introduction of quad headlights (four headlights) instead of two. The 1958 Chevrolet was no longer a 210/BelAir but was now an Impala. A Cadillac and a Chevrolet look very similar from the front and had very similar design cues, although naming conventions were different. Both Cadillac and Chevrolet V-8 equipped cars had “V” design elements. Chevrolet had some great hip, airy names of fun places like Malibu, Biscayne, and Bel-Air. 1958 was a particularly bad year for rust on the GM cars. Maybe too much water came through the four headlight surrounds? And, 1959 brought lower, sleeker, faster, airy designs.
Chevrolet has stuck by leveraging it’s RPO (Regular Production Order) codes like Z51, Z28, Z71, Z06, e.g. which are essentially option designations. They also had the odd habit of adding Chev- and Corv- as a prefix, and -ette and -air and -elle as suffixes. There were Corvairs and Chevettes and Chevelles. There was never a Chevair or a Camette, nor was there a Chevaro or a Corvaro, or a Corvelle (but there was Tom Carvel with Cookie Puss the ice cream cake).
Corvettes and Camaros. Meaningless, dumb names, still great cars. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, a Corvette is defined as “a small warship designed for convoy escort duty.” Huh? That’s the last image that comes to mind when you drive a Corvette. Especially a new one, which looks more like a Ferrari than a Ferrari.
Chevrolet still has the “bow tie” (which Louis Chevrolet pulled from a wallpaper design in France) but Cadillac’s crest has been rejuvenated by ditching the wreath/crest and “V” and stretching out the shield and making it more youthful and less “country club” and pink pants with white belt and shoes — looking. Cadillac has dumped syrupy snobby names like Fleetwood (a name shared by a luxury RV maker), Seville, Sedan DeVille, Coupe DeVille, Eldorado, in favor of alphabet soup. More on that later.
So, back to, as Mr. Shakespeare (Or, Shakesbeard as he was quoted by Alan in The Hangover) would say, “What’s in a name?” He’d say, Where Art Thou Bubbletops, speaking of course of the beautiful early 1960’s GM cars with elegant rooflines. Crisp, elegant, smart design (probably wouldn’t crash well by today’s safety standards) but had elegant names to evoke their designs. Truth be told, now we live in a sea of sameness with respect to car design and the names and brand experiences leave us numb. Infiniti G-something. Mercedes S-something. Lexus-something-350. BMW-something-28-i. BMW X1,X3, X5, X6. Sounds like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s alimony paylist. Just when we had BMW’s odd-number model hierarchy mastered (3–5–7) they pop up a 1, 2, 4, 6 and bring back the previously shortlived 8.
In my humble opinion, nothing beats an American V-8, clear, simple gauges, and ripping a perfectly good set of rear tires to shreds. Just as integral to that experience is the brand itself.
I’ve seen the SmartCar and it’s (true) Boston- area dealer version called the “Wicked Smaht Cah.” If you get slammed by a Silverado or t-boned by a Titan or a Tundra, to quote someone probably connected to Wahlberg, Damon or Affleck, you “ain’t gonna be too smaht.” They should have just called it SmallCar. It is what it’s not. Daimler DeathTrap could have worked. Or the EGC, the Enclosed Golf Cart. Or maybe a WickedDumbCah, the cah keys of which you can put in your cahkis (khakis) after you pahk ya cah in ya yahd.
If you look at the Chrysler Cordoba of 1975–1979, now it is clear they copied the nose of the Monte Carlo and the rear of the Grand Prix. Brilliant. Look at at 1966 Buick Riviera (shown here in turquoise) one of the most beautiful cars ever stamped out of metal, with it’s creases and crisp lines, or a 1962–1967 Pontiac Grand Prix cars and you will recall a time when cars were the brand, they evoked fantasy, presence, status. In the 50’s and 60’s we had designs from Harley Earl (although he did make a beautiful Buick convertible concept car and name it “Y-Job,” (Harley would be mocked in modern day memes for that name today), Bill Mitchell (Corvette Stingray) and influences from greats like Raymond Loewy.
In the PLC or personal luxury car segment, you had the evolution of John DeLorean’s beautiful Grand Prix, and the stable of “sister cars” made through the 1980’s (the models were all downsized in 1978) — Pontiac’s Grand Prix, Oldsmobile’s Cutlass, Buick’s Regal and Chevrolet’s Monte Carlo. In the 1960’s the Oldsmobile Cutlass/442, Pontiac Tempest/Lemans/GTO, Chevrolet Malibu/Chevelle/Chevelle SS and Buick GS shared assembly and chassis infrastructure.
What did 4–4–2 mean? Four speed, Four Barrel, Dual Exhaust. A formula for horsepower, torque, and lots of burning rubber. It didn’t mean 1–2–3 (one individual who wished he spent the extra 2 grand to get a GTO, the 3 letters he really wanted). Jim Wangers was one of the geniuses behind the GTO and knew how to market performance.
In 1974–5, Chrysler Corporation summarily killed the Charger and Satellite/RoadRunner by turning them into whitewall-clad and hood-ornament adorned soft-sprung behemoths and took away the cartoon colors like “Vitamin-C orange” and “Plum Crazy” and good stuff like Tuff-Wheels, Hurst Shifters, matte black decals and dual exhaust with “bazooka tips.” By 1975 these same chassis were carrying around Ricardo’s Corinthian Leather crowd — wearing elevator shoes, gold and medallions and Qiana fake silk shirts with bad “restaurant wall painting” grade pictorials of the Parthenon — in varied shades of gold, green and maroon. But, that’s where the market was — horseplay replaced horsepower. “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday” displaced by Saturday Night Fever. Road Runners morphed into Gran Furys driven by dudes that looked like off duty Serpicos.
So back to Mr. Montalban’s caaarrrrr. The best “euro destination” name they could come up with was Cordoba?
(It was the time of Seville, Versailles, Riviera, Montego, Eldorado, Torino, Monaco, Continental, e.g.) I guess the Chrysler “Detroit” and its twin, the Dodge “Camden” and Plymouth “Paterson” didn’t make the cut with the marketing folks. Who wants to go to Cordoba? Who even knows where it is? But it sounded elegant when articulated by Ricardo Montalban.
If cars were movies, these cars would be Boogie Nights.
I love the story of how Lee Iacocca, (during his time with Ford, known as the Father of the Mustang and of the Mark III) with characteristic laser focus and brilliance, giving the directive to “put a Rolls Royce grille on a Thunderbird” and the result — the 1969 Lincoln Mark III. Lincoln was a cash cow for Ford for many years, as Cadillac was for GM. It meant selling an $8000 Lincoln version of a $3900 Ford.
Look back now at early 1970’s offerings from GM sibling companies and it’s rather hard to distinguish a 1971–72 Cadillac DeVille from the Buick counterpart, the Electra, or the Oldsmobile, the 98. What is a 98? About 10 points better than a Delta 88. I guess if you owned a 98 you made honor roll and if all you could afford was an 88, you had the automotive equivalent of a B+. Perhaps the dumbest Oldsmobile name was Cutlass — which is a short knife. Sounded better than Oldsmobile Blade, Oldsmobile Dagger, or Oldsmobile Shiv. I think that was a minivan.
Ironically, the logical and precise Europeans used logical numbers and letters to designate body and engine. There was no Mercedes Dallas or BMW San Francisco or Audi Baltimore. (Although ironically the Blaupunkt radios which came in German cars were named after American cities. There was a little known Blaupunkt Newark which meant you got a broken side window and stray wires where the radio used to be. The joke at the time that their radios were disappearing, was that BMW = meant Break My Windows.) The German automakers liked alphanumeric designations. 250SL, 450 SL, 500SEC, 1600, 2002, 320i, 740i. E350. Although Ford used the latter on the Econoline van. If you decide to buy yourself an E350, yes, a nice e-class, make sure it’s not a van. And Mercedes didn’t call the Gullwing, the Gullwing. Tesla now has that heinous gullwing looking car that assumes you have a six car garage to pull into or you live in an airplane hangar.
The first successfully sold Audis had names like 100LS and then they came out with the Fox which was sort of based on VW’s line including the Dasher. (Glad they stopped at one of Santa’s reindeer. ) Can you imagine a VW Cupid? A VW Rudolph? A VW Blitzen? That last one actually sounds German.
Rolls Royce cars, despite their beautifully written Ogilvy and Mather advertisements (they featured the same GM Hydramatic Transmissions that came in a LeSabre or Impala) sounded like the names of mattresses or caskets — Silver Cloud, or “gentlemen’s clubs” — the Silver Spur. Hopefully no forthcoming V-12 Spearmint Rhino or Diamond Rodeo convertible. In my opinion, these were (and still are) bloated and obnoxious looking vehicles, and rather do look rhinoceros-like. The guy in the back seat with his fancy brand of mustard was obnoxious and certainly nowhere near as cool as Enzo Ferrari, upstart renegate Ferruccio Lamborghini (father of one of the most beautiful cars ever, the Miura), Dos Equis’ “the most interesting man”, Steve McQueen, or Sean Connery driving the original Aston-Martin DB5.
(Some of the new RR’s look like 1970’s Lincolns had a child with an Airstream. Some of these bloated luxury car brands should license VW’s name CC, and use it for Conspicuous Consumption.)
My Uncle Bruno was a guy with Steve McQueen kind of cool and was a car nut — I think that’s where I got it from. He owned one of everything and after owning a 1971 Jaguar XKE, he said at the time the company should just make tow trucks — they’d make more money picking up their customers’ old cars than trying to sell them new ones. The car was beautiful, it just sat in the driveway (the brand’s legendary unreliability from then is parodied in an episode of MadMen where Lane Pryce first unsuccessfully tries to take his own life by funneling carbon monoxide from the tail of his new Jaguar — and the car won’t start) and had the best looking steering wheel ever, wood with stainless spokes with holes in them, and a jaguar head staring out of the horn cap. As a little boy, I would stare at that greenish-gray coupe in the driveway and count the years until I would get a drivers’ license.
Thereafter he purchased a stuck on the lot for three and a half years- new 1968 (in 1971) Ford ThunderBird with hidden headlights, suicide doors and a rear seat which was essentially a curved black leather couch. (A four-door Thunderbird? That’s as bizarre as a four-door Charger and they have those) It had a 429 and should have been emblazoned with ThunderBeast, a more fitting name. It was beautiful deep nonmetallic maroon, and my Aunt was more comfortable and confident driving the T-Bird through New England winters with it’s heft and positraction, than the Jag.
But damn that Jag had great lines.
As with Lamborghini and swiftly cryptic names like Countach, Huracan, Aventador, Miura, Jalpa, e.g, VW raises the bar for obscure names: CC (presumably stands for Can’t Come up with a name), Passat, Tiguan, Jetta, Toureg, Scirocco, Corrado. The last one was way in advance of Uncle Junior from The Sopranos.
My dad had an Uncle Corrado — he was a great guy who drove Buicks and Cadillacs. Everyone called him Carl.
My son told me that VW has one more syllable than Volkswagen. It’s a funny “abbreviation.” The name “people’s car” was certainly one of the few sane things coming out of that Germany at that time. Porsche uses some numbers, but some modifiers, like race names. Logical. Carrera. Makes perfect sense — the cars are not named for motives — like the trophy wife/husband, or life events — made partner, sold my startup, just want to fit in on Rodeo or Wilshire. Porsche Partner. They do have some bizarre names such as Cayenne and Cayman, which is Porsche-spechen for Boxster with a hardtop. There’s no Porsche Chili, Sage or Rosemary. There was the FIAT Spyder and Brava long before the current numeric lineup of 300, 500, e.g.
Chrysler recycles old names of failed products. Imperial. We are sure to see that one again. Fourth time’s a charm. Every one I’ve ever seen looks like it should have flags on the corners of the front fenders noting the arrival of some Borat-esque dignitary. It was once said that if Richard Nixon was a car, he’d be a Chrysler Imperial. An Imperial was a luxurized New Yorker, which was a luxurized Newport, which was a slightly larger Plymouth Fury, which came in four trim levels, Fury I, Fury II, Fury III and SportFury. This confusion was further compounded by the existence of the Dodge Coronet, Polara, Monaco. Bloat. Open a hood on these cars and there is 24" of space between the bumper and the radiator.
At any time there were suffix-brands tossed on to many of these land yachts, words such as “Brougham,” “Landau,”, “D’Elegance,” “Limited,” “Special,” and some additional alphabet soup such as SS, RS, LE, DX, LX, i, e.g. And, for those trivia enthusiasts, what name appeared on both a Cadillac and a Buick? Park Avenue. Park Avenue was a shortened early-1960’s sedan Cadillac produced with an abbreviated trunk and rear fenders to fit in garages in cities like New York. With a shorter wheelbase it was easier to drive in and out of parking garages. The name was later used on luxurious Buicks, replacing “Electra” and ultimately used with a suffix-brand Ultra.
I hope the era of suffix-branded gold-plated emblems and wreaths combined with fake convertible tops on four door sedans is far, far away in the rear view mirror.
The animals ran wild in automotive branding.
Impala certainly sounds better than reindeer; Mustang sounds better than the Ford Colt (That was a Dodge). Bronco (a competitor to GMC’s Jimmy (ridiculous) and Chevrolet’s Blazer (Was it named after a sportcoat?) was a great product and name, until the brand (and the number 32) was torpedoed by OJ Simpson in 1994 until its recent reintroduction, which seems to look more like a 1992 Explorer than any Bronco. The Mustang was a tweaked Falcon which was about as predatory as a snail, and much sportier than the Maverick. Pintos exploded when rear ended — they should have been called the Ford Fireball. Like the Corvair which used fewer chrome letters than R O L L O V E R. Hey if they’d had a Corvair SUV it could have been the Range Rollover. Ralph Nader, thank you.
If Ricardo Montalban had been picked up by Ford as spokeslothario there would have been a Mercury Montalban. Their brilliant strategy consisted of using car names beginning in M- Marquis, Monterey, Mariner, Montego, and yes, the Mustang variant, the Cougar which not coincidentally begins with a C. Wait, that makes no sense. Why wasn’t it Mercury Mustang? Mercury Maverick? Good thing launch plans never went forward for the Mercury Meerkat, Misery, Maniac, Madness, Medication, Mistake. Perhaps Montalban’s sidekick, Herve Villechaize from Fantasy Island could have been the spokesperson for the Mercury Bobcat, the also exploding twin of the pinto. (Is a Bobcat a Cougar in training?) They were small cars, more like a Housecat. Given the Pinto connection, Firecat would have worked.
Old Tattoo would have been a natural to pitch the Cooper Mini. Fast, rugged, confident, compact. Just like Herve in his prime, appearing in Fleming’s James Bond movie.
There was an American Motors (Rambler) Marlin which was an awful looking intended copycat of the first Dodge Charger. What would sound cooler than Barracuda and Stingray? How about Marlin! Rambler Marlin = ZZZZZZ. At one point AMC’s solution to try to drive demand was jacking up ugly 15 year old designs on stilts and making monster truck 4 x 4 versions called “Eagles.” I’m guessing it’s possible Joe Walsh rented one and left it somewhere. Life wasn’t too good to AMC.
Pontiac had some nice vicarious-living, fast-sounding destinations like Bonnevillle, Catalina, Safari, Ventura, Grand Prix, LeMans. And some nonsense like Sunbird, G6, Tempest (Shakespeare would have approved) and Aztek. When the Aztek didn’t sell, mostly because it was hideous and looked like a cross between a Sears tractor shed and the remnants of a portajohn used by Tom Hanks in Castaway to fashion a raft. Who knew it would be Walter White’s vehicle of choice in Breaking Bad? After a reskinning, it became the Buick Rendezvous. Perhaps some summit-trekking fantasy prelude to Denali. Sounds better than McKinley.
What’s better than GTO? Nope, not Gas, Tires, Oil. Gran Turismo Omogalato, stolen from Ferrari by Pontiac. Hey, it worked. John DeLorean + Jim Wangers = sales.
One of the most beautiful convertibles GM made, the Saturn Sky, a version of the Pontiac Solstice, was given not to Chevy as a Stingray but to the division that came up with no haggle pricing and teal and purple replaceable fenders on cars designed like “Little Tykes” toys (the future inspiration for Tesla). There never was a Saturn Nerd, a Saturn Help Desk or a Saturn Comicon, but there was an Ion. Did the dashboard have a built in pocket protector for the mini slide rule and assorted pens and pencils like the late-90’s VW Bug’s acrylic flower vase?
GMC and Chevy went with the first letter or last syllable theme to a fault. Sonoma, Savana, Silverado, Colorado. Camaro, Chevelle, Chevette, Corvette, Corvair, Citation, Corsica, Celebrity, Cruze, e.g. Glad they scrapped the Chevrolet Coma. At least it rhymes with Sonoma. Certainly some of the late ’80s and early ’90s designs, and names, like Lumina, put people to sleep, as do names like Elantra, Sentra, Stanza, Alenza, Optima, and Maxima. These names could just as easily be television-advertised wonder drug prescriptions with adverse side effects, kind of like the current owner of Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/Ram, the French conglomerate Stellantis, which sounds like Big Pharma taking over the auto industry. France is known for making such handsome cars as the Renault, Peugeot, and Citroen. I was just kidding on that one. Every French car I had ever seen hit US shores looked like Inspector Clouseau and ran like Pepe LePew.
Mazda has resorted to branding it’s products like grades in an elementary school — the Mazda 3, the Mazda 6, e.g. Honda has a car called a Fit, which the owners probably throw when they try to “Fit” anybody into it. I guess Meltdown was already taken.
Lumina sounds like a brand name for Melotonin or some other sleep aid. Stellantis sounds like Big Pharma taking over the auto industry.
GMC (which originally was a way for Cadillac and Buick dealers in Canada to sell versions of Chevrolet trucks a’ la General Motors of Canada) should have bought the Sonata name from Hyundai and Mercury should have swapped its Comet for Chevy’s Malibu. Makes sense. Mercury Malibu, Chevrolet Comet. Then there are the cross brand recycled names. Sahara became a Jeep and was once a GM van. Suburban went from Plymouth wagon to Chevy SUV. At one time you could buy either a GMC Suburban, or a Chevrolet Suburban. Why does GMC even exist if they are making badge-engineered Chevys?
On the wagon front, anything with fake wood contact paper stuck to the sides was given the guild of “Estate.” Surely anyone rich enough to actually have an estate has a butterscotch yellow 24 foot long behemoth with a green vinyl interior and seating for 28 people. And a roof rack.
I believe Larry Hagman’s JR Ewing drove a Mercedes S Class, Bobby an SL, and not a Country Squire, Colony Park, Custom Suburban, Kingswood, or Vista Cruiser.
TRUTH VERSUS FANTASY
A little more on the Gremlin. Gremlin? It’s named after something that breaks something else, or renders it useless. Well, I guess that fits. Why not just call it the AMC Recall. Pacer? Should have been the AMC Fugly or the AMC Fishbowl. Matador?Always wanted to see a red one parked in the street at the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Would love to see those four legged two horned beasts flip that four wheeled four door beast over and spin it around on its roof. I believe there is come genetic DNA which connects AMC and Subaru, or what I like to call, JMC. Outback should be a name licensed to cars that have long been abandoned and left, well, out back. Still, the brand has enormous brand loyalty and knows its market and its customers. Like Volvo once did.
Volkswagen has announced it will be all electric and will become Voltswagen. What’s next, Volvo becomes Voltvo? Isn’t the best name ever for an electric car, Electra?
Since when was the Charger a four door? A 66–72 (73 and 74 not so much) Charger has beautiful lines. In the 2000’s it became a boxy four door cop car (if you are being chased by one in Boston, while driving your WickedSmahtCah, it’s a Cahp Cah.) Challenger. Still around. Many exciting flavors, ScatPack, R/T, SRT, HellCat, Demon (recycled from Dodge’s 70’s version of Duster). No other Dodge CH-names: What were their choices? Chicken, Chase, Cheesestick. They were wise to stop after hitting the wall on two CH- car names. How about other -er names, like Prodder, Poker, Chugger, Clunker?
Ferrari LaFerrari? What is this? This is like calling the Corvette a Chevrolet Chevy.
Plymouth Satellite. Sure that will do well in space. Probably better than the Comet, Astro, Astre, Oldsmobile Aurora, Dodge Polara, and the Rocket88 and the Galaxie. Was never sure what an Alero was. I think it was originally called the Obscura or the Bizzarro. Alas, the era of enormous, beige computers and teal Saturns. Pontiac killed itself with way too much plastic cladding and wide moldings and fake hood scoops, alienating the performance clientele with pent up demand for GTO’s and Trans Ams. GM did badge-engineer its Australian Holden Monaro in 2004–2006 as the GTO, but it was too little too late. The car was a sleeper with taxi-cab styling but sporting a Corvette powertrain. Successors would be the G8 (again, numb and dumb) which is essentially the same car as the “SS”, a performance consumer segment version of the “Caprice” developed and sold exclusively for the police market.
Oldsmobile had an awesome car in the 1960’s called Starfire, which was similar to a Grand Prix at the time; leather seats, luxury, floor shift. They also had mundane names like “Delmont” and “Delta,” making people think they were buying an appliance and not a vehicle. Hi, Bob, check out my new Oldsmobile Delmont. ZZZZZZZ.
It’s like your neighbor telling you he’s excited about his new toaster.
HERE’S THE STORY
It’s fun to think about car brands for what they really represented. Firebird TransAm 455 HO = Screaming Blind Fire-breathing Chicken of Speed and the smell of partially unburned gasoline with Journey blaring from your Pioneer Supertuner II and your Kenwood 6 x 9’s. Ah. This put Jim Rockford’s gold firebird Esprit to shame. (The car was actually a Firebird Formula with a big block, on which they installed a plain-Firebird hood; James Garner didn’t want to drive anything with hood scoops or bird decals. That was left later for Ponch from Chips who drove a FireChicken in the same shade of metallic gold.) Probably taking a page out of Joe Mannix’ handbook, Mike Brady of Brady Brunch fame, (he of six kids, stay at home wife, two cars, maid, 6000 s.f. house in California, four $15,000 vacations a year on a $3200 draftsman salary he earned working 10 hours a week in his home office, fame) drove a Barracuda convertible, albeit a column-shift-whitewall-hubcap-powder blue 318 one, and not a Tor-Red or Lemon Twist 440 Cuda. He was conservative. The Mod Squad had a cool Dodge Challenger alternatively driven by Julie, Linc and Pete. The 1960’s Batmobile was a George Barris-reworked Mercury concept car called the Futura, a name which would later appear on the “Fairmont” of the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s, a twin to it’s also-recycled name Zephyr from Mercury. Robin never got to drive the Batmobile, because he was, well, Robin.
Barris made a few slick cars for the Munsters as well as the waste of a perfectly good 1966 GTO, the Monkeemobile. (That was criminal.)
It’s interesting that many of the Suburbans sold are sold in urban areas, or to Suburban families as “soccer limos.”
Then there’s the simply nebulous — Lumina. Optima. Solara. Camry. Miata. Contour. Avalon. Diamante (taken from Mitsubishi’s “three diamonds” logo). Why isn’t the BMW 328 or 1-series called the BMW NC4A5 (no cash for a 5)?
The 1980’s were a time of brand extension where the auto industry went nuts with tape, decals, striping, “suffixes and modifiers” and “turbo” versions of just about everything.
The best still-available name for a work van — regardless of brand — will always be the Buttcrack 1500. Sounds better than Sprinter, Econoline, Express, Tradesman, or just plain-old 1500. Mercedes S Class — does the letter stand for Silly price and even sillier resale value: it’s the fastest way, other than investing in WorldCom or Global Crossing, or, having teenagers, to turn $175,000 into $35,000. Mercedes prided itself on strong resale value throughout the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, but the brand has become ubiquitous and in many parts of the world, Audi is a higher prestige brand, just as in Asian markets, consumers favor import brand Buick over other GM offerings.
Auto brands are competing in a crowded space and they need to do a better job connecting with customers, selling the sizzle as well as the steak, and making people feel safe, connected, special and thrilled.
I think Cadillac and Lincoln buyers glaze over in the showroom when trying to understand the brand hierarchy. A Ford buyer understands what a Taurus is. A Chevrolet buyer understands what an Impala is. It’s interesting that the same chassis twins made by Lincoln and Cadillac, respectively, turn naming into what looks like the spilling of a bowl of alphabet soup.
Lincoln’s (MKZ, MKX, MKC?) and Cadillac’s alphabet soup names. (STS CTS DTS). If you’re driving around Florida in “season” these cars should be branded as the CFD = can’t xxxxing drive, CFS = can’t xxxxing see and CRS = can’t remember xxxx. Prefer Lincoln’s naming configuration? Ok, MCS = might crash soon.
Hopefully that Octogenarian or better yet, Nonagenarian driver will be me some day, wearing my wrap-around combination sunshades/welding goggles, driving my Buick Yawn, Lincoln Con-stipation-ental or maybe even a Rolls Royce Silver Pillbox or Range Rover Pretense, on my way to a doctor’s appointment or to pick up another pair of white shoes. Ok, if we’re going to dream, I’ll go with the Ferrari 2O2L (too old and too late).
At least it won’t be a Ford Probe or a Volkswagen Thing.
Paul Fioravanti, MBA, MPA, CTP, is a lifelong car nut and in his day job when he’s not daydreaming about cars, he is a transformation executive that works with organizations of various sizes and shapes, from startups, to fix ups. He is the CEO & Senior Managing Partner of Qorval Partners, LLC, a Florida based advisory firm.
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Copyright 2021, Paul Fioravanti, MBA, MPA, CTP and/or Qorval Partners LLC.