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What's in a name? For cars, a mix of art and science

What's in  a name? For cars, a mix of art and science

NYT Syndicate

When Volkswagen developed a smallish SUV to meet the segment's growing demand, it faced a challenge: The truck had no name.
A car's name is crucial ” it defines the car and can provoke an emotional response among consumers. It will be front and centre on TV ads and billboards. Above all, a car's name is brand equity, its very identity. A Mustang is a Mustang, with or without"Ford" in front of it. A Cherokee is a Cherokee, even if it's always a Jeep.
VW sought the public's input ” a tricky proposition. Its unorthodox approach included a poll, which produced a stunning response. About 350,000 readers of the German magazine Auto Bild cast votes. Among the names on the ballot: Namib, Rockton, Samun and Nanuk.
The winner was Tiguan, a m`lange of"tiger" and"iguana."
Sexy? Perhaps not. But it stuck, and the Tiguan has stuck around. The Tiguan, which first went into production in 2007, has earned a redesign for 2018. And when a model doesn't quite meet expectations, its replacement in the lineup often gets a new moniker: The Tiguan's bigger, older sibling ” the Touareg ” has been replaced in the United States by the new Atlas.
Every year, automakers roll out a new crop of cars, trucks and SUVs. For 2018 alone, in addition to the Atlas, there are the Stinger (a sport sedan from Kia), the Velar (a new addition to the Range Rover lineup) and the Urus (a Lamborghini billed as the world's fastest SUV).
"You try to create a language and a name that taps into the psychology and sells the product," said Robert Pyrah, the head of strategy at the London-based creative agency Brandwidth. Pyrah is an outsider in the insider-intensive automotive industry, but his research, delivered to companies like Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen, is crucial when it comes to naming ” and selling ” a vehicle.
"There's a whole set of strategic considerations that come in," he said."It's thinking how the brand should be positioned in the marketplace, identify the car's essence." Some clients have specific goals:"They'll say, 'We have a new SUV, we want the name to target 30-somethings with two children.'"
Pyrah and his team will come up with about 30 available names, then meet with the manufacturer's marketing team and product planners to trim the list, which will be presented to senior management. The whole process can take a year or more.
One obstacle that branding experts in the car industry ” and their clients ” face is the dwindling number of names that are still free to be trademarked. That can lead to questions from the company's leaders, Pyrah said.
"If you should present an uninvolved person on the board a list of names that are coinages, or made up, or futuristic, they're going to go, 'Well, why can't I have Explorer?'" he said.
Many manufacturers prefer following patterns they already have in place. Volkswagen will often name models after winds (Scirocco, Passat, Bora). Lamborghini uses the names of bulls. (The Urus is named after the ancestor of modern cattle.) Beyond the Mustang, Ford embraces the letter F: Flex, Focus, Fusion, Fiesta.
"It's an evolution, from real things to animals to metaphors, to words that are slightly made up," Pyrah said.
Because so many names are already taken, branding agencies will often try to push the envelope. Take the Nissan Qashqai, a crossover branded in the United States as the Rogue Sport."It's such a weird name, it flummoxed people at first," Pyrah said."Now it's cool."
When it comes to signing the deal on the showroom floor, however, the car name isn't necessarily what pushes the buyer's buttons.
"The product has to be king," Pyrah said."At the end of the day, I tell clients that as long as the name isn't bad, you can get away with most things."

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