Why are car names so ab­surdly baf­fling?

Car names are becoming more com­pli­cated and con­fus­ing than the Wandsworth one-way sys­tem. By Will Hersey

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

Why has it be­come so hard to keep track of car names and de­nom­i­na­tions? And more im­por­tantly, which num­bers and let­ters now of­fer up the best op­tion for petty one­up­man­ship in the Asda car park?

The prob­lem could be age, of course. As a kid, when men across the coun­try still spent their Sun­days tin­ker­ing un­der their “mo­tors”, mainly to avoid hav­ing to do any house­hold chores or par­ent­ing, it seemed easy. A let­ter “I” for in­jec­tion on the back of your boot was the min­i­mum re­quire­ment, with ex­tra points kick­ing in if com­bi­na­tions like GT or CS were in there some­where and lo­cal hero sta­tus for the revered “Turbo” suf­fix. Back then it was the big­ger the num­ber, the big­ger the en­gine. Sim­ple times.

But as car­mak­ers added new model sec­tors like city cars, SUVs, per­for­mance tun­ing sub-di­vi­sions, hy­brid en­gines and fu­ture-fac­ing elec­tric ver­sions, it’s now eas­ier to mem­o­rise the hu­man genome than it is the Mercedes-Benz A to S Class sys­tem.

All man­u­fac­tur­ers seem to have their own baf­fling com­bi­na­tion of al­phanu­mer­ics, along­side made-up words which ap­pear to have been signed off dur­ing hot Fri­day af­ter­noon meet­ings when Alan’s leav­ing drinks were about to start.

This year, Jaguar launches the E-Pace and I-Pace to add to the F-Pace. The E-Pace is a smaller ver­sion of the F-Pace but while E might sug­gest elec­tric to you, it isn’t. That’s the I-Pace. The “I” be­ing a hang­over from iPod per­haps, and adapted by mul­ti­ple in­dus­tries to im­ply in­no­va­tion. Volk­swa­gen is go­ing one fur­ther and has just an­nounced it’s chang­ing its en­tire logo to her­ald in the new elec­tric era.

It’s all a long way from the Ford Model A, where it all be­gan. Ba­si­cally, we’ve gone through the let­ters. We’ve gone through the num­bers. We’ve gone through the an­i­mals — Mus­tang, Pan­ther, Jaguar, Cougar, Impala, Stag, even Bee­tle. And we’ve gone through most of the silly names, too; Vaux­hall Adam, Mit­subishi Let­tuce and the re­cent Fer­rari LaFer­rari (proof that no brand is im­mune), come high up that par­tic­u­lar list.

We still have the made up, of course.

This year, the lux­ury SUVs Lam­borgh­ini Urus and Rolls-Royce Cul­li­nan lead that cat­e­gory.

And there is still some hang­over from the old days, the let­ters “RS” cur­rently be­ing the most brag­gable thanks to Ford, Audi and oth­ers pro­duc­ing crazily pow­er­ful en­gines un­der its um­brella. It’s a badge that can still get men in fleece jack­ets tak­ing photos in mo­tor­way ser­vice car parks.

Per­haps we at­tempt a Soviet-style re­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of car names. Small, Smaller, Small­est. The Fast One. That kind of thing.

At least some man­u­fac­tur­ers aren’t tak­ing it quite as se­ri­ously as oth­ers. For Tesla, Elon Musk al­ways wanted a Model S, a Model E and a Model X, but Ford spoiled his school­boy gag by block­ing copy­right on the Model E. He went for the Model 3 in­stead.

Ini­tial re­ac­tions Top: in the Eight­ies, Volk­swa­gen’s iconic hot hatch the Golf rep­re­sented a golden era of car names

Above: a cheeky Audi cam­paign poster from New Zealand in 2013

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