This week, Infiniti found themselves the subject of much ridicule after their decision to rename all of their cars with a “Q-” or “QX-” prefix followed by two numbers.
It’s not like “G37” or “JX35” had a ton of personality, but now fans of Nissan’s luxury brand will need to make do with even vaguer, more nonsensical names like “Q60” and “QX70.”
All of this got me thinking about car names. What makes a car’s name good or bad? Does a name have anything to do with a car’s success in the marketplace? Do names even really matter?
I believe that car names are important, and that good ones can at least help establish some appeal for the vehicle — while bad ones can backfire and make buyers ignore a car that might be great on its own.
Often, naming a car is a dance between the automaker, marketers, designers, advertising people, focus groups and other people tasked with these kinds of things, as well as going after whatever name hasn’t been used yet or just plain making something new up. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
It could be argued that for the luxury car companies, the name of the model itself is less important than the badge. People like being able to say “I have a BMW” or “I have a Lexus,” but you don’t get the same effect when you say “I own a Chevrolet.” Usually, you need to follow that by specifying whether it’s a Cruze, a Malibu or a Silverado, but a BMW is a BMW. It carries a cachet that doesn’t require elaboration with the actual model. If we follow this logic, perhaps Infiniti’s rebranding won’t be such a big deal.
Names for sporty cars are the easiest ones to get right. You need a name that invokes speed, excitement, performance, and viscousness. If it sounds like it can kill you, it’s a good sports car name. Viper, Challenger, Cobra, Firebird, stuff with “GT” in it — all good names for that kind of car.
Nissan’s Yutaka “Mr. K” Katayama is a genius for many reasons, and one of them is that he ordered that the original generation of Datsun Z be called “240Z” instead of “Fairlady Z.” He knew Americans — specifically, American men — would never buy a sports car with a name like that. I am convinced that this is why the Miata unfairly gets as much shit as does for being a “girly car.”