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Cars play name game

Paul Gover
Herald Sun

27 May 2010 • 5 min read

A Mustang is a wild brumby in the USA but also one of the all-time best muscle cars; the LandCruiser does just what the name says, even if the land is the worst of the Australian outback; and the Enzo is a tribute to the man who founded the world's best-know supercar company, Ferrari.

But the name game can go badly wrong.  The Nissan Cedric was never going to be a hit in Australia with a name that creates a picture of an aging uncle Arthur in a cardigan, Taurus is tough in the USA but was always going to flop against the Falcon, and the Skoda Roomster has just been dumped after failing to find a home down under.

Holden was careful to avoid the VD in its Commodore line, but why did it start with the VB and not the VA? And what about the Statesman, which went well as the WB but was never updated into the WC?  Just this week I was following a Citroen Jumpy delivery fan in Portugal, and wondering if the name was a reflection of the driver's behaviour or the way it runs on the road.

The craziness goes on and on, like the Citroen Picasso people mover which is anything but an oil painting.  Today's showrooms also have cars whose names have more numbers and letters than a cryptic crossword, with just as much meaning. Who really knows the difference between an A7 and a C350?

But head back in history and there are some absolute clangers.  Henry Ford named the 1950s Edsel after his son, but is now recorded as one of the biggest flops in blue-oval history.  Japan has given us everything from the Daihatsu Rocky and Rugger to the Honda Ascot and Acty Crawler and on through the Isuzu Big Horn to the Subaru Justy.

Nissan created the Tiida name from nothing, even though it claims it has something to do with waves breaking on a beach, and Lexus is even a made-up brand name, in contrast to Mercedes which was named after an early Daimler customer's daughter.  Over in America, the AMC Gremlin was a flop, the Dodge Neon never went up in lights, Plymouth Reliant never lived up to its promise, and the Lincoln Town Car was so big it needed its own postcode.

Even some of the names which have worked create more questions than answers about their creation.  The Kia Mentor is more likely to need one, the Honda Jazz is not much of a music machine and the Suzuki Cappucino was too frothy to sell in Australia.

Some names also paint a picture because of their history.  Mention Celica and lots of people in Australia think hairdresser.  Ask about the Nissan GT-R and you'll hear about Godzilla.

Camry is shorthand for fridge-on-wheels, Kingswood is classic sixties kitsch, and then there is the Goggomobil.  So, what's causing a Rukus today? The Toyota Rukus, for a start.

We could also get the Nissan Cube, which is as boxy as its name, although Nissan Australia is also pushing for a return of the Pulsar badge which worked so well before the silly switch to Tiida.  Right now we have the Skoda Superb in Australian showrooms. If that's not a name which creates a serious expectation then we don't know our Falcodores.

When Toyota was looking for a new name for a mid-sized car alongside the Camry it thought it had the ideal choice. It settled on Centaur - the mythical man-horse - because it sounded tough.  But no-one at Toyota Australia had taken into account a nasty incident in World War II during the battle for the Pacific.

A hospital ship called the Centaur was sailing towards Brisbane when it was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine. The idea of a Toyota Centaur sunk even faster.  The Centaur badges were crushed, all the paperwork was changed and so was the advertising. The Centaur quickly became the Avalon for Australia.  How do we know? Carsguide made the call to Toyota to warn about the problem. 

Japanese cars have always led the way in the silly-names race.  How about the Mazda Bongy Brawny? No, not the name for an off-road tough SUV, it was the badge on the back of a city delivery van with a 1.3-litre engine.

Everyone has heard the story about the Mitsubishi Starion, and whether the company's sales team actually meant to call the turbo coupe the Stallion.  And then there is the Pajero. It's called the Montero in Spain, because Pajero is the word for something usually done alone in private.

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