The Washington Times - August 25, 2008, 06:27AM


Badly Named Cars    


Sometimes perfectly good cars don’t sell. It might be due to poor timing of a particular launch (Chrysler Pacifica, for instance) or the wrong model at the wrong time (big SUVs during the current time of high gas prices) or the model name is just plain bad.

There’s a lot of psychology in a model name and a good one creates mental images in buyers’ minds. Corvette, Viper, Impala, Galaxie, Charger, etc., are good examples of well-named cars and most models produced over the years have had reasonably good names. Some, however, did not.

The VW Corrado was one that should never have been used on an otherwise good car. The name didn’t mean anything to American buyers and, when printed, looked like the word “corrode.” That’s a really poor mental image for an automobile and buyers stayed away in droves. Over the years VW seems to have had a little more difficulty naming its products than other companies. Models such as Tiguan (Tiger + Iguana) and Touareg haven’t helped ease the confusion in recent years.

Subaru missed the mark with the Tribeca, a nice vehicle with a name that is strictly “East Coast.” Very few people in the Midwest and West could give a damn about New York’s Tribeca area in lower Manhattan. In fact, there’s a general feeling throughout the U.S. that New York takes itself way too seriously and that built-in bias has probably prevented a number of buyers from taking Subaru’s model seriously either.

Back in the 1970s Cadillac put its foot in its mouth with the Cimarron. Not only was the name inconsistent with any Cadillac-themed nomenclature, but also the car was nothing more than a cheesy Chevy Citation fitted with leather seats and faux wood trim. It was a disaster, to say the least.

Ford recently attempted to resurrect the 50s-60s “500” moniker, but it failed miserably in the showrooms. If they had called it the “Fairlane 500,” the proper original name, it might have done better. Instead, they rechristened it the Taurus after temporarily dropping that model name. It confused everyone. The Taurus, by the way, was named by a Ford exec’s wife. Her astrologer told her that the name would succeed. Oh boy!

Some time back the Daihatsu company sold the Charade here in the U.S. How did they come up with that name? It was hard enough for a little-known company to enter the U.S. market, but marketing a car named “Charade” turned more people off than on to the car. Hardly anyone bought one and the Daihatsu company left the market with its tail between its legs.

Suzuki blundered with the X90, its little open-backed beach buggy that appealed to young, playful buyers. The company should have known that the car would be bought primarily by people living on the coasts as it begged for a surfboard. The name X90 didn’t attract anyone because it didn’t relate to the car itself. Suzuki should have called it the “surfer” or the “Beach.”

Malcolm Bricklin, sometimes called the “P.T. Barnum” of the auto industry, tried to import Fiat X19 sports cars under the name “Bertone.” Not enough people knew of the Italian design house Bertone to relate to the car, much less be interested in one. The Bertone lasted less than two years and that was that…