Lexicon® Blog

Do You Want to Drive a Leaf?

In Branding, Business, Cars, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on October 13, 2010 at 1:18 pm

U.S. car culture never stands still. We’re used to a rapid succession of styling changes–fins, racing stripes, pin stripes, hatchbacks, SUV’s, crossovers. Just as constant are the shifting patterns of car names — luxurious place names (Riviera, Malibu), names about racing (Torino, Grand Prix), energetic animal names (Mustang, Bronco), weird names (Elantra, Amanti).

The naming landscape is changing…less muscle, more tone…

Nowadays some of the loudest buzz in the auto industry goes to quiet electric and hybrid brands like Leaf. Who ever thought a major auto manufacturer would put out a Leaf?

 

Nissan's all-electric Leaf

 

If nothing else, this name choice for a highly anticipated new car model suggests that the auto industry has turned a page. So much attention has shifted to low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicles that anyone not acquainted with Dodge’s muscular, gas-guzzling Charger might be forgiven for thinking it was an electric-powered car.

The world weighs in…

Another big factor in the newest car names is the global shift in production and marketing. Car names are becoming more uniform around the world.

For several years Buick marketed its LaCrosse brand in Canada as the Allure in order to avoid associations with la crosse, Québecois slang for ‘masturbate’ and ‘swindle.’ GM had also planned to market the Allure brand in China. But in 2009 the Allure brand was dropped and LaCrosse was adopted across the board, even in Canada and China. That worked well for GM in China, where the beloved, hot-selling LaCrosse was named Car of the Year for 2009.

New Technologies, Old and New Brands

Thanks to growing global exposure to once-local brands, car names exhibit more linguistic diversity than ever before.

Among today’s prominent electrics and hybrids are China’s F3DM, first marketed in 2008. India’s REVAi, the world’s best selling battery-powered electric to date, is being sold in a number of countries in Europe and Asia. Tata, also in India, has plans to add a hybrid version of its super-economical Nano. Chery, one of China’s best-selling cars, added a plug-in electric model in 2009, the same year that China became the world’s biggest market for autos.

Electrics and hybrids have been gaining steam for several years, and they’ve become the surprise new focus of the auto industry. The excitement is everywhere. England’s Daily Telegraph even reported on a study suggesting that preference for hybrid cars is genetic. Little wonder that we’re seeing so many new brands marking a break with the gasoline-only past. First in line was Toyota’s Prius a decade ago, followed recently by contenders with new technological twists.

Let’s see how three of the newest brands — Fusion, Leaf, and Volt — communicate their new competitive advantages alongside the well-established Prius.

To Be Continued…Click back on Friday for our overview!

— Will Leben, Director of Linguistics

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  1. Damn, truly interesting topic. Where will I get your subscription?

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