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Alphabet soup, numbers salad – that’s why cars are called what they are called

Updated 06/05/2022 08:07

  • Letters, numbers, combinations of both, or just a distinctive name – many manufacturers are imaginative when naming their designs.
  • How cars get their names and what embarrassing misadventures there can be.

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“Tell me what’s on the back and I’ll tell you the name of the car” – what sounds so simple requires good planning on the part of the car manufacturer. Some have had bad luck choosing the name, while others have played it safe with certain systems.

The name of a car model must be well thought out in one way or another. The world and its variety of languages ​​is too big. Manfred I have to sing a song about it.

Since 1986 he has been developing brands and product names, including for car manufacturers. From him derive the names Actros, Twingo, Smart, Vectra, Vel Satis, Viano and Panamera. “A car name can position the vehicle individually and stand out from the brand,” says Gotta. Because he expresses a personality and can help brands with an image problem. However, the variety of names therefore makes them more difficult to distinguish.

A good name doesn’t have to follow the spirit of the times or trends, but it does have to last a long time. When he searches for a name, Manfred Gotta always takes a close look at the car, from all sides.

“I have to grasp the car visually and tactfully, feel the car so I can understand it,” he says. With his team and special programs, he creates up to 100 different names for each vehicle. He has checked them in different countries for pronunciation, intonation and meaning.

Because some models are called differently abroad

Time is needed, also to avoid embarrassing misunderstandings. Because there have always been misleading names on the international stage in recent years. Audi’s e-tron may sound like “étron” in French – “poop”. Mitsubishi’s Pajero SUV could be a “wanker” in South America – and it became the harmless Montero in Spanish-speaking markets.

A Pinto may not only be a compact car from Ford, but it has also colloquially become a “fuck” in Brazil. And Kuga is the “plague” in Croatian – or a Ford SUV.


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Numbers instead of names

Some manufacturers rely on other systems, such as BMW. 50 years ago the Bavarians invented their nomenclature with the three numbers, which still applies to many models today. Until then, BMW had mainly naming its models based on the displacement of the engines. Small vehicles only had small engines, while large cars had large engines. There was no overlap. For example, the smallest car was the BMW 700 (from 1959) with a 700cc engine, the largest was the 3200S with a 3200cc engine.

Told fifty years ago

With the recently introduced mid-range model in 1972, the engines had to be used in all vehicles for development and cost reasons. The weaker engine of the middle class should also power a smaller car, and the more powerful engine of the middle class should also function as the weakest engine of the luxury class.

“This would not have been possible with the previous nomenclature. BMW had to correctly name different engines in different categories to clearly show customers the difference,” says Fred Jakobs, head of the BMW archive.

The new system included numbers for the class that grew with size: a small class was called 3, the middle class 5 and the upper class 7. In between, space was left for later niche models, such as coupes. The last two numbers indicated the displacement of the engine. A 520 was therefore a 5-Series with a 2.0-liter engine, a 525 a 5-Series with a 2.5-liter engine and a 725 a 7-Series with a 2.5-liter engine.

“Customers should be able to tell at a glance which model it is. With the compact three-number combination, this has been possible for 50 years,” says Jakobs.

Numbers and letters are often more universal

So-called alphanumeric identifiers such as combinations of numbers and letters offer an advantage as product names: they are usually easy to understand internationally. You have to beware of the unfortunate numbers here in some places.

Since the 1960s, Mercedes has mostly named its vehicles with three-digit numbers denoting the displacement, followed by a letter for the vehicle’s size. Like the 1959 220 b sedan (W 111 interior). It could also follow the AD for diesel – about 240 D for a W 123 (1976).

Since 1993 Mercedes has divided its series into classes such as A, B, C, E, S and G and derivative versions for the GLA, GLB, GLC or GLS SUV models. This is followed by the displacement number, an indication of the engine power, a lowercase d for diesel or information on all-wheel drive, such as the S 400 d 4Matic for a corresponding model of the current S-Class.

But even with letters and numbers, you can sometimes be wrong: the little athlete from the Toyota MR2 can sound like “merde” in French – “shit”. (dpa / tar)


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