You see, the problem I have with some model names is the lack of originality.
Remember when a model name evoked an emotion? It told the story of that vehicle for its owner.
Considering this month’s My Favorites column, there was a further discussion about model names that transpired as George and I were doing some testing and video work recently. It ended as a rant on my part.
You see, the problem I have with some model names is the lack of originality. Rather, the lack of imagination that the marketing folks have when naming some of the vehicles currently on the road.
If one manufacturer uses, say, “Sport” or “Grand” in their model’s name, is it supposed to be exclusive to that manufacturer?
Not exactly, but let me recount my rant if you don’t mind…
The word “Sport” is used as a trim level across many manufacturer models. It designates the sportiest model in the lineup. However, to add the word “Sport” to a model name seems like a bit of cop-out. What we’re saying is that the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is supposed to be a sportier version of the larger Outlander. Instead, it is a much smaller vehicle that is unrelated to each other. Therefore, using the name “Outlander” distinguishes it among all Mitsubishi models.
In other markets, the Outlander Sport is known as the ASX or RVR. Mitsubishi’s North American arm knows that full model names get better traction and customer response than letters, numbers, or a combination of both. That is, unless you’re a German luxury automaker.
With a possible new model coming up to replace the Outlander Sport, you would hope that Mitsubishi would have the imagination to give it a name that attracts consumers.
Mitsubishi is not the only manufacturer who simply added the name Sport to a model name to distinguish it from a larger model. Nissan had the Rogue Sport, Subaru had the Outback Sport, Hyundai had the Santa Fe Sport, and Volkswagen currently has the Atlas Cross Sport, along with Ford's Bronco Sport. There’s also the Range Rover Sport and the Discovery Sport – both from JLR. You get the idea…
On the other side of the spectrum, there is the use of the word “Grand.” At first, it was an innocent and appropriate name for Pontiac’s luxury-sport version of their full-sized lineup back in 1962 – the Grand Prix. As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, Pontiac started to misuse the word “Grand” for two of their other models: The Grand Am and the Grand Ville. The former was a sporty version of the new mid-sized Le Mans with the Endura nose and the faux-European motif. The latter was a full-sized model that was placed above the Bonneville giving Pontiac a more luxurious model. The Grand Ville did not last beyond 1976, while the Grand Am’s name appeared on a new model starting in the 1980s.
While it was Pontiac’s fault that the word “Grand” appeared on other model names, a few other manufacturers have taken the mantle of applying it on their larger, more luxurious models. The company now called Stellantis is the biggest culprit of doing so, with the Plymouth Gran(d) Fury (trust me, it counts), Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Grand Wagoneer, and the Dodge Grand Caravan. You also had in Canada Hyundai’s larger SUV named the Grand Santa Fe. Now, Toyota has joined in the fun with their newly minted Grand Highlander SUV.
It could be worse.
In a Facebook post a while back, I also ranted about the overuse of the term “Grand Touring.” That term alone is supposed to mean something – a coupe that was made for touring with the performance of a sports car.
Even though it is in Italian, Maserati gets a pass for the use of the name for their 2+2 grand touring coupe, the Gran Turismo. They are allowed to, as they helped shaped the breed some 50-plus years ago. However, I must question whether Audi or BMW should use the term – regardless of spelling and language – for any of their vehicles. A five-door hatchback is not really a grand touring car. That also includes battery-electric five-door models.
Even the abbreviation “GT” is overused. I’ll stop there before I go over the deep end with this topic.
Marketing should be about setting the tone of the vehicle you hope would sell in desired volumes. That starts with the model’s name. Although it was egregious to reuse the nameplates “Eclipse” (even with adding the “Cross” to it) and Dart on vehicles that do not evoke the original vehicles wearing those memorable nameplates, they should serve as a reminder that evoking the past has a lot of baggage to sift through prior to doing so.
What’s in a name? I this question again, because in this context I wish that some of them would be rethought with original, fresh, and evocative ideas that draw consumers to its charms. There are billions of dollars on the line in the automotive industry. At least make the most of your investment in producing a good vehicle with a name that help consumers crave it at their local showrooms.
All photos by Randy Stern