THE ECONOMIST: The worst-ever car names and why they had to be changed

The Economist
The Economist
2 Min Read
THE ECONOMIST: The worst-ever car names and why they had to be changed
THE ECONOMIST: The worst-ever car names and why they had to be changed Credit: Supplied/The Nightly

Bestowing a name on a car, as on a child, is not to be taken lightly.

By naming his newest progeny A æ A-Xii, Elon Musk has condemned the boy to a lifetime of befuddled attempts at pronunciation (“ex ash ay twelve”, for those wondering). Naming the first four models produced by Tesla, his car company, S, 3, X and Y was equally asinine.

Yet model names that provoke derision or outrage are surprisingly common in the car business. The Ora Funky Cat, from a sub-brand of China’s Great Wall Motors, was recently renamed the Ora 03, ostensibly as part of a new global brand strategy but mainly because it sounded daft. Peugeot’s Bipper Tepee, now discontinued, was about as bad.

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The Ora Funky Cat electric automobile, manufactured by Great Wall.
The Ora Funky Cat electric automobile, manufactured by Great Wall. Credit: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Nissan Cedric, a large saloon on sale from 1960 until 2004, sounded like it belonged in the previous century. It eventually became the Datsun 200 series in many overseas markets.

Other examples are more off-putting. The Studebaker Dictator was renamed the Commander in 1938, but not so the Suzuki Esteem (though it brought owners none) or Mitsubishi Carisma (it lacked any, and an “h”).

Some car makers have been caught out by unfortunate translations. Chevrolet’s Nova meant “no go” in Spanish, while the Mazda Laputa translated as “prostitute”. Ford’s Pinto meant “small penis” in Brazilian slang.

Ford’s Pinto, which translates to small penis in Brazilian slang.
Ford’s Pinto, which translates to small penis in Brazilian slang. Credit: Supplied

Employing letters and numbers is safer but not foolproof. The Toyota MR2 had to drop the deux in France: the full name sounded close to the word for s....

 Toyota MR2 changed it’s name in France.
Toyota MR2 changed it’s name in France. Credit: 391-12-13

Geopolitics has lately made naming a car even more treacherous.

Xiaomi, a Chinese tech giant that has turned to car making, wants to brand the platform underpinning its inexpensive SU7 saloon Modena. This happens to be the name of the Italian city where Ferrari (also part-owned by Exor) and Maserati (of Stellantis), two somewhat pricier European marques, hail from. That has incurred the displeasure of the city’s mayor and Italy’s minister for enterprise and may fall foul of an Italian law banning the use of Italian place names for foreign products.

It is not only Chinese carmakers that have committed such faux pas.

In April Alfa Romeo, one more Italian car maker owned by Stellantis, was forced to hastily rebrand the Milano, a small SUV, as the Junior days after it was launched. The car is made in Poland. Before long a foreign car maker might try to win favour with Chinese customers by calling one of its models the Hangzhou, after the country’s car making heartland.

They should think twice.

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