Names reveal a lot about ones age and background. Take girl’s names: Chelsea and Chardonnay come from a different time zone to Irene and Constance, and quite possibly a different social stratum. The same is true with car names. Since the dawn of the automotive age, there have been many examples of ill-judged car model names that are funny, inappropriate or downright stupid. The Japanese seem to excel at this and get dafter as time goes on and concepts are revealed. The Nissan Cedric and the Mazda Bongo are just two such examples – no doubt fine cars but tarnished with such awful ‘handles’.
The problem is that these can alienate buyers and hit residuals.
So, what do premium car brands do? They KISS (Keep it simple, stupid). By the simple and logical expedient of using letters and numbers they steer clear of this potential pitfall and in the process clearly identify to potential purchasers (and aspirants) exactly where in the range any model fits. Audi are the clearest example – A2, A3, A4, A5, A6, A8. BMW and Mercedes are the past masters though not as clear as they were – what engine does a 325i have these days? (3 litre). But the general principal remains: premium manufacturers use letters and numbers, volume use names. Yes, there are exceptions: Peugeot have numbers with a zero in the middle (they patented the lot way back forcing Porsche to rename its 901 as the 911) and, of course, the Bugatti Veyron is hardly volume!
The added benefit of this practice is that the lazy consumer/journo can refer to the range en masse as, for example, ‘5 series’ or ‘C-Class’ which in turn makes it easier for owners, too. The 518i owner, when asked what he drives, can simply say, ‘A 5 Series’, and leave the impression that he has forked out double what he actually spent. Yes, at the end of the day, it is all about snobbery – but a bit of well-placed snobbery has always been good for residual values. When Saab left the 900 and 9000 behind them, they decided to retain the ‘9’ as it had been a part of every Saab name since they started building cars. What to add to it? Why re-invent the wheel when the market leader in every sector they competed in had already done the job? The 900 became the 9-3 (after 3 Series) and the 9000 was replaced with the 9-5 (5 Series competitor).
But there is no need to stop at model names: premium brands don’t like to use the word ‘estate’ either – too reminiscent of creaky and rattling van-like machines for their delicate sensibilities. No, they have ‘Tourer’, ‘Touring’ or just plain ‘T’ for Merc. But even this can have its problems. One premium manufacturer with an aircraft heritage found itself seeking a name for a soon-to-be-launched estate car and retained a global branding outfit to come up with one. They seriously proposed ‘Tailwind’ which was well received by most markets until they saw the British and American delegations rolling in the aisles.