Liz Dobson: Car names - weird, wonderful and wacky

Carrera is the Spanish word for race which is what most Porsche drivers feel like doing when they get behind the wheel. Photo / Supplied
Carrera is the Spanish word for race which is what most Porsche drivers feel like doing when they get behind the wheel. Photo / Supplied

What was Suzuki thinking of by calling its first sedan the Kizashi?

Car companies spend millions of dollars designing and manufacturing vehicles but sometimes you would think they spend only a few minutes deciding what to call their products.

There's Toyota New Zealand's Signature range hatchback, the ist. Yes really. I.S.T, ist, rhymes with ... missed.

Suzuki's first sedan, the Kizashi, sounds like it was named when one of the marketing gurus sneezed. "We should name it ... ah, ah, Kizashi!"

Nissan's crossover Qashqai (pronounced 'cash kai') may be a tongue twister but it's also a motoring writer's dream name. Get ready for those puns: Popular crossover is Nissan's cash cow.

But there are some names that should win awards.

The most creative goes to Chrysler's Jeep which is said to have been taken from the word "GP" for "Government Purposes" or "General Purpose" as the vehicle was used by the military during World War II.

The term was then adopted by manufacturer Willys-Overland in 1950 to name the early four-wheel-drive vehicle.

One of the most appropriate car names is Porsche's Carrera, that is Spanish for "race" - and when you drive it, that's just what you want to do.

Kia's tiny hatchback is named the Picanto, derived from the French word 'piquant', meaning 'spicy' and 'canto' meaning 'song'. Spicy song, anyone?

But the top prize goes to the legendary Jaguar, considered to be one of the best sports car names of all time. The name beat out a long list of lacklustre animal names compiled by a British ad agency in 1935.

These days, most car companies hire a brand-consulting firm to suggest model names. The consultants may come up with as many as 1000 names, which they whittle down to a few to present to the client. Other manufacturers listen to focus groups and consumer research, which can indicate names car buyers prefer.

Other times the name is developed by employees of the car company, though sometimes the prototype's code becomes the final name, as in the case of the Chrysler Crossfire.

At Honda, a product planner came up with Insight for Honda's first hybrid vehicle, while at Chrysler Canada, all members of the team developing a new model take part in naming it.

Sometimes, carmakers want to focus on the make rather than the model, so choose alphanumerics for names - combination of letters and numbers - or just letters.

In New Zealand, Mazda has moved away from names for cars, and instead uses numbers.

"Since 2002, when the 'Zoom-Zoom' marketing campaign was launched, our model names also changed to the Mazda2, Mazda3 and so-on format," says Mazda New Zealand's Maria Tsao.

"In Japan, however, they continued with specific model names such as Demio."

But the company decided to mix things with some of its fleet.

"Crossover vehicles were given the CX-prefix followed by a number to depict its size, while the MX-prefix is used for convertibles, the RX-prefix is used for rotary-powered vehicles and BT-prefix for utes," says Tsao.

French manufacturer Peugeot is quite technical with its car names - yes, the 206 isn't just a simple figure.

The first number indicates the vehicle "family", or its size in the range, the second, always a zero, is the link that connects the family number to the third figure, which indicates the generation of the model according to its appearance over time.

But the company has not always used a three-figure number for the model names. Until 1930 Peugeots were named according to an arithmetical numbering system, so the first of the French cars was called the Type 1. During the 1920s, some models were better known for their taxable horse power, such as the Peugeot 10CV.

Alphanumeric names are popular among the luxury brands - Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus all go for letter-number combinations.

There are also literal names. The Land Rover and the slighter larger and more expensive Range Rover are named to convey those vehicles' ability to handle any terrain.

Posh brands Rolls-Royce and Bentley are famous for bestowing their cars with such poetic names as Silver Ghost and Azure, and at the other extreme from the luxury brand names come some of the wackiest ones.

There is the Daihatsu Naked (made between 2000-04), Honda Life Dunk, Isuzu's Mu (which stands for Mysterious Utility), the ever-popular Mazda Bongo, seen on New Zealand roads, along with Suzuki's convertible from the 1990s, the Cappucino, which was so small it should have been called Espresso.

It's not just the Japanese that like strange names, German firm Volkswagen produced the Thing and in 1946 came the two-seater sports car, the Volugrafo Bimbo, yes really, Bimbo.

After that name the Suzuki Kizashi doesn't sound that bad.


There are some car names that have been lost in translation with Mitsubishi's Pajero the most infamous of the fleet.

In some Spanish-speaking countries, pajero means masturbator. Oops. So the Spanish version became the Mitsubishi Montero.

French manufacturer Renault should have used Google translate before naming the Megane - which means glasses in Japanese - and the Koleos, Latin for balls.

To make things really confusing, Rover in Polish means bicycle and the Ford Pinto, popular in Europe, is Ford penis in Portuguese.

Hyundai's Santa Fe is doubly offensive. In Arabic, this four-wheel-drive means Hyundai that smells bad, and in Korean, it is pronounced Santa Pae which in slang means beat up.

And another carmaker would probably like to forget its origins. The name Volkswagen was a response to Adolf Hitler's call for a car for common folk and means "people's car".

- NZ Herald

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