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Auto cosmetics aren’t the entire story. What your car is called may say something about you – your taste, your self-image, or your aspirations. Automakers know this, of course; they have huge marketing departments filled with proposals, data, photos of Edsels and New Coke, and so on. The car names that make it all the way to the market may say more about manufacturers than they do about customers.

As usual, Honda rises to the top. One of the cleverest things you can do with a car name is use a real word, particularly one that has only vaguely pleasant or honorable connotations – such names are easy for you and me to wear to work every day: Civic, Accord, Prelude, Insight, Element, and Odyssey are all shrewd choices. Vigor, Integra (a made-up word sounding vaguely like "integral" and "integrity"), and Legend were also good, but Honda has cancelled all the Acura names for nonsense characters: TL, RL, RSX, TSX, and MDX. Bah.

The nonsense characters have been around forever, with BMW and Mercedes being at the front of the herd. With BMW and Mercedes, though, the nonsense nomenclature tells you something about the vehicle. The BMW name "325i," for example, designates the 3-series (compact) body, a 25-deciliter-displacement engine, and fuel injection. (After 27 years of offering only fuel-injected cars to most of the world, you’d think BMW would drop the "i".) The 3-series is around 1,000 pounds heavier than the 3-series of 1977, but no matter; just as the Pontiac Le Mans of the 1990s had nothing to do with the Le Mans of the 1970s, so do other makers like to keep a model name alive to suggest continuity where little or none exists. It is wise to cash in on a popular name.

American automakers often stick to the obvious when creating car names. Chevy, for example, has SUVs named TrailBlazer, Tracker, and Tahoe. Pontiac once had the Bonneville (and now has it again); Chevy has the Monte Carlo; Buick the Park Avenue; GMC the Yukon; and so on. Car names based on geography are among my favorites.

Newer model names are even less subtle: Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler Crossfire, Chevrolet Avalanche, GMC Canyon. There are stupid names in the US: Pontiac Vibe and Aztek, the new Chevrolet Equinox, and the old Ford Probe among them. And unlike Honda, which used a vanilla name for an aggressive car in the old Prelude, Ford uses an aggressive name for a vanilla car in the Taurus.

Letters seem to mean things to marketers. For sports car and truck names, you’ll see X and S used most often; occasionally an N; plenty of Zs; and the occasional I or i. D, E, and L are used to denote trim levels, usually on family and luxury cars. You can probably find an example of every letter in the alphabet – Infiniti uses a Q, Subaru uses a W – though Y, O, P, and some others seem underused. I can’t even think of a Y.

I suppose it might seem obvious how it works: Marketers spend huge wads of time mulling names for a new car that probably already has been designed. They test the names with "focus groups" – people off the street, hired just to give their opinions. Automakers make some effort to select names that communicate something about the mission of the car – for example, there aren’t any "Mach 1" or "Bruiser" hybrid econoboxes, nor any full-sized pickup trucks named "Ladybug."

Ultimately, though, we aren’t fooled by the name. Why is the Honda Civic such an all-time big seller after 30 years, while the Chevrolet Citation is but a bitter memory? The Ford Mustang always sold well, but not the Ford Pinto. The Ferrari Enzo Ferrari (yes, that’s the way they say it), named for a Ferrari family member, was sold out before all the units were even built. Likewise, the Dino is a prized collector’s item. Not so the Ford Edsel.

The car makes the name. When you and I hear "Taurus" nowadays, we don’t think of a bull. We think of a concert B-flat, vanilla, tippy-over little crap sedan not worth its weight in fertilizer. When we hear "S2000," we could think of a kitchen appliance or lawn mower, but instead we say the name with reverence for an awe-inspiring little roadster (at least the pre-2004 models with the 9000-rpm redline). The same goes for G35, RT, GTO, S600, and other nonsense names – they come to be associated with high performance, luxury, or both once the vehicles themselves make the impression.

Marketers know that a fatal combination is great advertising and a bad product. Sales may be high initially, but soon the product becomes extinct, sometimes taking its producer along into oblivion. That’s why Ford has avoided the Pinto name with its econoboxes (such as the Focus), yet BMW has held onto the 3-series designation for so long. This is true even though today’s 3-series has less in common with 1977’s 3-series than the Ford Focus today has in common with the Pinto of old.

If they teach us nothing else, car names teach us about marketing. Marketing is a good thing; advertisers and marketers give us information including what’s available, where to look, and what to expect. Marketers’ own textbooks advise that if you overhype a product, you doom the product and perhaps the producer. Truth-in-marketing laws aren’t even necessary – you and I do all the enforcement work by not buying. And since marketing teaches us about entrepreneurs, marketing is worth studying in its own right, even if you’re an accountant.

Vive la nomenclature!
 

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Great stuff -- btw where does it come from? Or maybe did you just write it yourself?

I agree about the alphabet-soup Acura names. I mean, yes, we love "TSX," but the whole basic thing was nuts.

"Acura," of course, is a great name. At first I assumed they picked it because it sounds "precise" (which it does), but then a friend who lived in Japan for a long time told me no, it's just the family name of one of the Honda bigwigs. (Anybody know if that's right???) Assuming that's true, I can just see those Japanese execs coming up with the name and then laughing their asses off when they find out it also suggests "accurate," and thinking of how us stupid Americans are going to be fooled into thinking "precise" when actually it's just their buddy's name.

Speaking of names, I always thought part of Celica's problem was the name, which IMO sounds feminine.
"Not that there's anything wrong with that," necessarily; but the problem is, it just doesn't fit that car.


BTW that's wrong what it says about the Edsel. The Edsel IS a prized collector's item, big time. But it sure was a flop in its own time.
 

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Ford is adopting the F & E rule for new models. All car names will start with F and SUV's with E. How retarded is that?

Carry-overs like Mustang, Taurus and F150 are excluded.
 

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Just a little nutty
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kiteboy said:
All car names will start with F and SUV's with E.
Actually that makes a lot of sense.

If you think about the type of automobile that you're driving, and then take a look at the fuel gauge, they pretty much go hand-in-hand.

Whatchamacallit, who like to makes sense out of nonsense.
 

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Ah yes, the F150.

I remember, on another site, it came up that there's also an F160, and I wondered what that is. A great old member named LSHenretty (now disappeared, presumably somewhere in Ohio) explained:

"It's the same as the F150, but......ten more."
 

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Forgive me for making this up, but I always thought it went like this:

RSX = Racing Sport
TSX = Touring Sport
TL = Touring Luxury
RL = Refined or Rich Luxury
 

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pocketkiller said:
Forgive me for making this up, but I always thought it went like this:

RSX = Racing Sport
TSX = Touring Sport
TL = Touring Luxury
RL = Refined or Rich Luxury

Makes sense to me!
 

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pocketkiller said:
Forgive me for making this up, but I always thought it went like this:

RSX = Racing Sport
TSX = Touring Sport
TL = Touring Luxury
RL = Refined or Rich Luxury
Looks good to me too --- but Honda/Acura keeps saying they don't stand for anything.

Still looks good to me.
 

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Orangeblood
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One thing that's always cracked me up is the names Japanese pick for cars aimed at American markets, especially Toyota. They seem to have an overabundance of r's and l's in them: lexus, corolla, celica, prelude, avalon, cressida, camry. Most of Toyota's recent names have been staggeringly weird.

If they could put gigantic round eyes on the cars too (think speed racer) they probably would.
 

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pocketkiller said:
Forgive me for making this up, but I always thought it went like this:

RSX = Racing Sport
TSX = Touring Sport
TL = Touring Luxury
RL = Refined or Rich Luxury

I like it alot!!!...im hooked!!!
 

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I understand Toyota used to use a syllable combiner to find "pleasant-sounding" names like Camry, Corolla and Celica. Obviously with Matrix, Sienna and Tacoma, they no longer do this.

So what does NSX, EL and MDX stand for???
 

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kiteboy said:
I understand Toyota used to use a syllable combiner to find "pleasant-sounding" names like Camry, Corolla and Celica. Obviously with Matrix, Sienna and Tacoma, they no longer do this.

So what does NSX, EL and MDX stand for???
I remember that "Camry" was a name that really puzzled me -- still does!
It was the first car name that really made me wonder about the linguistics of it. All I could figure out was that it sort of sounds like the word for "room" or "living room" in some languages, so I wondered if that's what it was supposed to be -- you know, as comfortable and homey as your living room. :rolleyes:
Which it wasn't, and never has been.
Aside from that, I didn't know. And still don't. I think it's a totally dumb name.
OTOH look at the sales figures. I guess they know better than I do.

About Celica, though, maybe they didn't know better than I do. As I've said elsewhere, I always thought the name sounded too "feminine" for what kind of car it is, which wouldn't have helped the marketing. And in fact, the car has never done as well as it deserved to.

NSX = never sold any except to a few real rich guys
I don't know about the others. :D
 

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So...you think DMX drives an MDX? :D
 

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About the Acura name. I cannot believe it came from some Honda employee's surname. Honda created Acura for the U.S. market. Remember it was the first Japanese upscale division. Acura must have been chosen to make people think "accurate." It was marketed as a finely honed, precision Honda. Of course, we have noticed the resemblence of the Acura emblem to the Honda emblem, but have you noticed the Acura emblem looks like a caliper similar to the Motor Trend COY award. I'm glad they did away with the model names. I mean, come on! LEGEND. Give me a break. Rolls Royce couldn't pull that off.
 

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estern said:
About the Acura name. I cannot believe it came from some Honda employee's surname. Honda created Acura for the U.S. market. Remember it was the first Japanese upscale division. Acura must have been chosen to make people think "accurate.".....
Well yes, that's what I had assumed, but OTOH I would tend to believe what my old friend said.

So, I figured I'd do a little googling to see if I could find any mention of "Acura" being the name of some Honda bigwig, or anything at all about how the name came to be. And nothing came up, nothing at all, at least not easily.

But I did find this:

"The name readily brings to mind ‘sakura’, a type of Japanese cherry."

So now we have 3 theories. :donno:
 

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Here's another theory - in alphabetical order, Acura is first (at least among makes sold in NA). The "A" logo is just the big-H, upside down and pinched in a bit.
 

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kiteboy said:
Here's another theory - in alphabetical order, Acura is first (at least among makes sold in NA). The "A" logo is just the big-H, upside down and pinched in a bit.
That's what I always thought about how they came up with Acura... :nod:
 

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TSX 'R' US said:
That's what I always thought about how they came up with Acura... :nod:
Yeah, that's what I always thought, cynical, cut-rate "badge engineering", like GM re-badging the Chevy Cadavilier as a Cadillac Cimarron. BTW, the legendary Acura Legend was the Honda Legend in other markets. The RL still is.

http://www.honda.co.jp/LEGEND/
 

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Larchmont has another association he has made with the Acura logo that has stuck in my mind ever since he brought it up. :D I'll let him explain....

I can't stand alphabet soup names. At least the Acura names are somewhat easy to remember. I can't figure out the Mercedes nomeclature at all, except for the obvious "C" or "E" that starts the car name, denoting it's class. Oh well.

As for the Edsel....well, it's more of a disaster legend than reality. The car market absolutely plummetted the year the Edsel came out -- sales were depressed across the board, and several companies went out of business shortly thereafter. If you look at Edsel sales as a percentage of cars sold at the time, it actually did better than for expected it to. Interesting stuff.


Ferg
 
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