Those funky names for cars

I was watching TV the other night and saw a commercial for VW’s new SUV, the Tiguan, and wondered where they ever got that odd-sounding name for a vehicle. It turns out VW held a contest and let about 350,000 readers of a German car magazine vote for their favorite among several choices. They chose Tiguan, a combination of the German words for tiger and iguana, over other names that included Namib, Rockton, Samun, and Nanuk.

This got me thinking about car names and how various car companies approach them. Ford, for example, goes for alliteration, hence the Excursion, Expedition, Explorer, Edge, Everest, and Escape, as well as the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, Flex, and F-150. This approach just confuses me and I can’t keep the models straight. Tellingly, two Fords I would recognize are the Taurus and Mustang, two that don’t seem to follow Ford’s current rule for naming cars.

Nissan and Toyota aren’t as rigid in sticking with a naming paradigm but seem to share a penchant for names ending in the letter “A,” which must have some strange attraction to the Japanese or they think Americans are attracted to it. (Are we?) Nissan has the Versa, Sentra, Altima, Maxima, Armada, and Xterra. Meanwhile, Toyota contributes the Corolla, Tacoma, Tundra, Sienna, Sequoia, and Venza.

Other companies go for the two- to four-letter alphanumeric codes like Mercedes and BMW with their 3-Series, E-Series, Z-Series, and hotshot M and AMG Series, not to mention the numbers for engines size and letters for things like hybrids, diesels, and fuel-injection, among others. Such names, more like designations, are semi-useful but give the cars little character.

I realize it’s difficult to give a car or truck a monicker that will be hip and cool and not offensive in any of seven or eight languages. So maybe they should give cars different names in different regions and live with the small added costs of more targeted marketing. But when I get to be president of GM or Ford (don’t hold your breath), I’ll start naming vehicles after snakes. The Cobra and Viper did well, so I’d add the Copperhead, Stilleto, Black Mamba, Diamondback, the Hognose and Bushmaster (two off-roaders, obviously), Python, and Sidewinder, not to mention the Whip, Wolf, and Wutu.

What naming convention for cars and trucks would you recommend?


Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Reuven Y. (not verified)
on Dec 11, 2013

I'll gladly go for the names you suggested! Only that I would add green Mamba also, in order to emphasize a stronger/smaller branch to the Black one.

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A questioning, sometimes humorous look at technologies, engineering, and the world.


Stephen Mraz

Steve serves as Senior Editor of Machine Design.  He has 23 years of service and has a B.S. Biomedical Engineering from CWRU. Steve was a E-2C Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer in the U.S. Navy. He...
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