The opportunity to name a new car is invaluable, a multibillion-dollar branding exercise with potentially decades-long staying power. Of the nearly 300 models in the US, about a quarter of the names have been around for more than 20 years — even if the base car has changed. The Porsche 911 was launched in 1965, a year after Toyota introduced its first Corolla. The Chevrolet Suburban debuted in 1934, making it the oldest badge in the industry.
Over the past few years, this ritual has been in progress. Automakers are racing to electrify their lineups and roll out new vehicles at a pace not seen in decades. Battery-powered driving offers a cleaner, quieter and ultimately cheaper way to travel—a coveted trio that the branding team had to distill into a series of catchy new car names.
It won’t be good.
Take Toyota Motor Corporation, the world’s largest automaker. The company has been perfecting battery-powered vehicles since the late 1990s, culminating in its first mass-market electric vehicle in 2022. what is its name bZ4X. The “bZ” stands for “Beyond Zero” emissions; the 4 refers to its four-wheel drive, and the X refers to its crossover shape—all of which may have been lost in the Camry crowd. Not to be outdone, Honda Motor Co. is taking a gamble on the appeal of the colon by announcing that its second electric vehicle will be called the e:Ny1.
At Jaguar, drivers could be forgiven for assuming the automaker’s electric option is the E-PACE, but that model has a gas engine. The battery-operated Jag is the I-PACE. No one can blame Volkswagen fans for confusing the automaker’s ID.4, an electric SUV in the shape of an electric vehicle, with the ID. Buzz, a reworked version of the company’s famous van. “Everyone is scrambling to get ahead.”
A good product name ticks three boxes, Placek says: It has to be memorable, catchy, and stand out from the crowd. It would also help if the moniker was “what we call ‘processing smooth,'” Placek said. “When the mind looks at it and says ‘well, I can do this.'”
Many of the new EV names fall short. They are either so conventional that they feel unworthy of mention, or so different that they are memorable.
No one said naming cars was easy, nor that bad car naming was unique to EVs (see: Daihatsu Naked, Ford Probe, and Studebaker Dictator). A car’s name is less important to consumers than its price tag, range, features and aesthetics. But as a marketing exercise, the plethora of clunky EV names represents a missed opportunity. Just look at Tesla: The company may not have been able to spell out “SEXY” with its four models as planned — “Model E” was a trademark Ford registered six years before Elon Musk unveiled his sedan — but This attempt is as memorable, noteworthy and different as it is juvenile.
In some cases, today’s EV names also highlight the disconnect between research and development and product planning. Just about every automaker has laid out an ambitious timeline for a full shift to electric vehicles, but those naming the Kia EV6 or the GMC Hummer EV may have forgotten the memo. These labels will age like “New York Football Giants.”
“They’re just dating themselves,” Placek said. “In five years, nearly everyone who drives a new car will be in an electric or hybrid vehicle.”
There are also names that shift, append letters, or become less clear as variants proliferate. Audi launched its groundbreaking electric car “e-tron” — wise enough — but now it has a slew of e-trons, including the original and the (very different) e-tron GT. Mercedes hashes it out similarly: The company’s EV lineup includes the EQS, EQA, EQB, and EQE, as well as the EQS SUV, EQB SUV, and EQE SUV. At the top end, Mercedes has also added “AMG.” No one wants to drive alphabet salad.
Meanwhile, Volvo spin-off Polestar Automotive Holding UK Plc has taken the iPhone approach: its first car (which is no longer in production) is the 1. 2 is now, and 3 is coming soon. The Polestar 12 will be bananas.
Arguably, the best EV names aren’t acronyms or monograms; they’re fresh, fun, and fun to say. General Motors’ Chevrolet Bolt and Cadillac Lyric are following this path. The modern Ioniq clicks well. Lucid has Air, Fisker has Ocean, Subaru has Solterra. Then there’s Nissan’s Ariya, which is said to be a variant of the Sanskrit word for noble or admirable. Porsche’s Taycan is a unique choice, but also reminiscent of the elusive jungle beast.
There will be more opportunities to improve on the current name: BloombergNEF estimates we’ll see 30 all-new electric cars in the US in the next year alone. Until then, pour a glass to the Toyota team that marketed the “Prius,” a car that’s still all the rage after 25 years. They must have retired before the bZ4X came along.
First published date: Jun 2, 2023 at 12:07pm CST