“You are what you eat” – so say the dieticians. Put another way, we are what we consume, and as consumers the brands we chose to buy can say a lot about our personalities. What does the purchase of an Apple i-Pad/Pod/Phone say about its user and how does wearing Gucci/Prada/Armani reflect upon the personality of the buyer? Brands most definitely speak, and nowhere is that speech louder or more publicly apparent than in our choice of car make and model. Car name types are many and varied, each one communicating subtle differences in attribute and connotation. Automotive names obviously convey driver-referential associations but that is just as true also for car brands that choose not to assign ‘names’ to their models.
The masterbrand is the thing for the car manufacturers that pursue alphanumeric naming strategies for their models. ‘Make’ is all and the combinations of letters and numerals used to identify model variants usually serve the purpose of distinguishing between performance, engine size/type, evolutionary order and other functional characteristics. Generally logical, if sometimes forgettable, alphanumeric model designators can often lend a sense of technological and mechanical credibility to the motoring machines they adorn. No need for names that evoke desirable or differentiating connotations since the ‘reason to believe’ has been built into the manufacturer’s masterbrand name over time. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Peugeot, Audi, Jaguar and Volvo are all keen and seemingly unswerving proponents of this model designator strategy.
That is not to say that strategies don’t or shouldn’t change. Witness the relative turnaround positions of Citroën and Renault. Gone are the days of Renault 5, Renault 4 etc. to be replaced by names such as Laguna, Megane, Modus, Scenic and Espace. At Citroën, no longer the Xsara, Xantia and Saxo but now the C3, C4, C5 et al. Such naming conventions tend to go in cycles and may depend on how manufacturers respond to competitors’ strategies.
Some of us like to give our cars ‘pet’ names: Ziggy, Rex or Uriah. Indeed such is a strategy adopted by some manufacturers enabling them to literally confer anthropomorphic characteristics to their models through personal names, possibly pioneered by Herr Benz when purportedly he first assigned his daughter’s name to his company. Škoda successfully employed the names Fabia, Felicia and Octavia when the company’s re-invention endearingly hit home with self-denigrating commercials in the UK. Ladies’ names are further seen to be effective also for Renault (Clio) and Alfa Romeo (Giulietta).
Some car makers have become known for the consistent use of family-style naming strategies. Since familiarity breeds comfort this is maybe an advisable way forward if wanting to reassure consumers by offering a formulaic and structured naming system. Family groups can be linked by theme and/or common letters or suffixes and prefixes. VW’s sport-themed Golf and Polo still resound with consumers even as 5th generation versions, alongside wind-related imagery for their Scirocco, Jetta and Passat. More recently T-starting VW names have become prominent including the Touran, Tiguan and Touareg.
Lotus similarly shows a penchant for a common first letter (and the most common letter in the English language) whose exotically-named models include Evora, Exige, Elise, Europa, Elan, Eclat and Esprit. And Ford, too, for a time, echoed their corporate name with Fiesta, Focus and Fusion.
General Motors’ Opel/Vauxhall have long been loyal (with only a few exceptions) to the policy of identifying their range of commercial vehicles with the suffix – o (Combo, Movano, Vivaro) and their passenger cars with the suffix – a (Astra, Agila, Corsa, Zafira, Meriva, Insignia and Antara) promoting a consistent ease of recognition and understanding.
Lancia also has seen the advantages of a thematic orderliness to their range, classically inspired by Greek mythology (and alphabet), which includes Delta, Ypsilon, Musa and Phedra.
Trademarkability is a tough challenge for automotive manufacturers considering new model names. Trademark Class 12 is massively overcrowded and the chances of globally registering a familiar and real English word are, at best, slim. Coined or newly-invented names, though sometimes and initially unfamiliar-looking and sounding, can often provide the solution to this increasingly problematic issue and provide benefits in terms of uniqueness as well as accessibility in multiple non-English-speaking markets. Toyota’s historic C- starting naming formula (Corolla, Camry, Celica) has been overtaken by their more recent and somewhat Latinate-sounding coinages Yaris, Auris, Avensis and Prius.
EVs (electric vehicles) are most surely the future in these ecologically conscious times. We can expect many more imminent EV entrants to join the current crop of associatively-named models that, so far, includes Chevrolet’s Volt, Nissan’s Leaf, Citroën’s C-Zero, Opel/Vauxhall’s Ampera and Peugeot’s iOn. And BMW promises a new series of i-prefixed models.
Of course it’s not just car models that require brand names. New automotive technologies, particularly engine innovations, are ripe for branding and can often add not just ecological appeal but also efficiency value to the perception of a car model, and can gain recognition very rapidly. Ford’s Zetec and ECOnetic, and VW’s BlueMotion in particular have been used in this way, along with Opel’s Ecotec and Škoda’s GreenLine.
The beauty of brand naming is its flexibility of application. Anything can become a brand and thereby take on personality, espouse uniqueness, accrue IP value and deliver category stand-out. However, few brands are as numerous, multinational, ubiquitous, visible or as user-reflective as those in the automotive arena. It’s therefore imperative that when embarking on an automotive naming exercise all considerations involving style, trademark registerability, sector-specific strategy, linguistic acceptability and competitive longevity are prudently and equally assessed.
To contact Purple Fire Branding, specialists in brand naming, strategy, research and design, please telephone: +44 (0)20 8166 1853 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org