What's in an [Alphanumeric] Name?
Stripping cars of their names, one luxury model at a time
It’s funny how industry-wide memos seem to fall from the sky. In the end, every automaker usually gets on board.
Say I’m a 50-year-man looking for a high-end luxury car to replace my poor-decision-of-an-SUV that I purchased five years ago. The criteria? It has to be powerful, have a Roundel/Three-pointed star/Mt. Fuji badge (or any other logo that will make my neighbor envious on the hood), and it has to be pretty. Oh wait … its name also has to sound like it was derived from a robot from the future.
How about a BMW Z4 sDrive35is?
(I’m pretty sure someone fought with — or against — a Z4 sDrive35is in a “Terminator" movie at some point.)
For the past 20 years or so, luxury brands have been phasing out cars with actual names in favor cars with alphanumeric ones, leaving a small sampling of boring alphabet soup on the decklid or even the fender.
It used to be limited to German cars, whose designations used to reflect the size of the engine, but Japanese cars adopted the practice in the late ’80s. Acura held out a bit, but later broomed out its Integra, Vigor and Legend in favor of the cold-sounding RSX, TL and RL. (OK, Vigor is a terrible name, but is TL any better?)
And last to jump on the band wagon — in an effort to grab this 50-year-old guy’s money — are the Americans. Cadillac recently ditched its “real names” in favor of the ATS, CTS and XTS. Lincoln also followed suit with its MKS and MKZ.
I don’t understand the move toward these clinical sounding model names. Many of them are one letter away from creating a first-grade spelling word.
Is an up-market Taurus easier to sell if it’s called an MKS? Is a rich person more likely to buy something called a TL than an Accord? Do we have some fascination with things that sound like they are from the future?
Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW (except for the Z4 and X models), have a rather straightforward way of naming their cars: letters generally let you know how big the car is, and the numbers that follow generally let you know how powerful the engine is … and the letters, S, AMG, F and M, when attached to each brand, respectively, let you know that the car is a bit more interesting than the garden- variety version.
More of the soup …
It’s kind of refreshing that the makers of normal cars — Chevy, Ford, Buick and most of the mainstream Asian automakers — still give their cars real names. And some are even, dare I say, interesting. The Veloster, Rogue and Cube come to mind, as do the Genesis, Prius and the Fusion. (Dodge seems to have resurrected all of its nameplates from the ’60s and ’70s, but I guess that’s acceptable.)
There’s less room for posturing when you give a car a real name, less opportunity to turn your nose up at someone. There’s no, “Oh, I guess he couldn’t afford the E63,” or, “Look at the hobo in the entry-level C-Class.”
The automotive world needs more Veyrons and Phantoms. More Barracudas, Roadrunners and Vipers. The names don’t have to make sense or sound like they’re from the future — just keep them punchy.
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