Designing a world-class automobile that captures the motoring public’s imagination is primarily the domain of engineers. Without an awe-inspiring drivetrain and a sleek, aerodynamic chassis, no car can set the world on fire. However, it’s important that we don’t underestimate the role that marketing plays when it comes to selling a vehicle to the masses.
Take the name of a car. It’s no coincidence that some of the greatest vehicles of all time have equally great monikers, like the fearsome Mustang, the evocative Corvette or the playful Testarossa (‘redhead’ in Italian).
By the same token, many a perfectly serviceable automobile ends up burdened with an unfortunate name. In this article, we’ll be looking at the five biggest mistakes marketers have made when attempting to come up with a catchy title for a nippy new car.
The Ford Pinto
Back in the 1970s, Ford introduced the two-door subcompact Pinto to the Brazilian market. It was ostensibly named after the term pinto horse, which describes an animal with a coat consisting of patches of white and other-coloured hair.
Unfortunately, the locals didn’t interpret it that way. The iconic US car maker’s marketers obviously hadn’t done their homework, or else they’d have realised that in Brazil, pinto is also slang for male genitals. What a cock-up!
The Studebaker Dictactor
Studebaker was for a time one of North America’s most respected car makers. The South Bend, Indiana-based company was a byword for quality and reliability through much of the first half of the 20th century, and many of its vehicles had appropriately magisterial names – the Commander and the President, for example.
However, Studebaker also chose to christen one 1927 automobile the Dictator. This unfortunate lack of foresight was only remedied a decade later, when the company abruptly discontinued the name after conceding it had unfortunate connotations on the stage of international politics.
The Ford Escort
The Ford Escort was an enormously successful car in the UK, which proves that an awful name won’t necessarily affect a vehicle’s sales. Yes, an escort is a perfectly serviceable word for someone or something that accompanies and protects a person as they travel, but it’s also a well-recognised euphemism for a discreet sex worker. Other vehicles with unfortunate sexual connotations include the Mazda LaPuta (‘the whore’ in Spanish) and the Dodge Swinger.
The Daihatsu Charade
It’s hard to really work out what the Japanese car maker Daihatsu was trying to accomplish when it called its 1977 supermini the Charade. The name might have been intended to evoke a playful riddle, but mostly it arouses suspicion – what, exactly, was Daihatsu’s pretense? Where they attempting to hide something about this otherwise unextraordinary compact?
The Chevrolet Nova
This one is the subject of a popular urban myth. In Spanish, “no va” translates to “doesn’t go” – not a great message to get across in a car’s nameplate. According to legend, this had a massive impact on the vehicle’s sales in Mexico and Venezuela, which only took off after Chevrolet renamed the car the Caribbe.
This is all untrue – as Snopes points out, the Nova sold well in Spanish-speaking markets. What’s more, the Caribbe was a Volkswagen vehicle and nothing to do with Chevrolet. Still, it’s a great story – not to mention an amusing translation!