As anyone who’s ever been behind the development of a product knows, once you get to the expected quality, performance and feature set, it’s all up to the marketing. Look no further than the pet rock for an example of how important marketing is: thousands of people actually paid money for a rock in a cardboard box. This also explains why Apple’s products are so popular: sure they work (eventually), but Steve Jobs could sell toilet paper for $100 per roll just by calling it the “iWipe”.
Carmakers seem to lose sight of this by coming out with increasingly bizarre names, or names that may have unintended inferences. I’ll spare you the made up names, since no one gets positive imagery about a “Yaris” or a “Tiguan”, although I do wonder exactly how you’d mate a tiger with an iguana. My ten worst names list is based on actual names of places or things that make you wonder just what the hell the automaker’s marketing department was thinking. Also, this list is for cars sold in the U.S. only, because there are thousands of bad names just waiting to be ridiculed in other markets. Isuzu “Mysterious Utility Wizard”, anyone?
10. VW Thing
It doesn’t get more ambiguous than this, and VW set the bar high when they named their unsafe-at-any-speed retro troop transport. The Thing had all the crash protection of a Little Red Wagon (with style to match), but most rusted to oblivion long before they had the chance to kill someone.
9. Pontiac Grand Ville
French for “large city”, the Pontiac Grand Ville lived up to its name in size, resources consumed and ease of parking. Available in sedan, coupe and convertible flavors, the Large City was Pontiac’s top trim model between 1971 and 1975. Common sense, as well as the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 and 1974 killed the car before Pontiac could build a successor named the “Megalopolis”.
8. Pontiac Parisienne
Maybe they were going for upscale, but naming a car for a woman from Paris seems like a bad idea to me. Sure, Paris is charming, but it’s also filthy and rat-infested (in fairness, so is New York). Sure, French women can be hot, but they also tend to have different standards for personal hygiene. They may have been aiming for sophisticated, but I’m thinking the Pontiac “Dirty and Foul Smelling” was a miss.
7. VW Routan
Ask VW, and they’ll tell you that Routan was a made-up name. It’s probably unfortunate for them that there’s also the Routan Islands, located in the Chaunskaya Bay of the East Siberian Sea. Basically unihabitied, there is an Arctic research station on one of the islands. In other words, VW’s rebranded Dodge Caravan is really the “VW Desolate Russian Islands In The Arctic”. Marketing folks at VW, here’s some free advice: Wikipedia is your friend.
6. Chevrolet Citation
Yes, this car was drab, uninspired and a chore to drive, but it also was a mainstay of Chevy’s sales for years. They were cheap and you could do just about anything you needed to with them, and even a relatively competent mechanic could keep them going long past their prime. It’s too bad they were named for a moving violation, and strangely ironic at the same time. You really had to make an effort to speed in the Citation, proving that automotive marketing types really can have a sense of humor.
5. VW Touareg
Though spelled differently, the VW Touareg was named for the Tuareg, a nomadic tribe stretched across Niger, Mali, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Libya. If women in Paris smell bad, how do you think Tuareg tribesmen smell? Running water isn’t too common in the desert, and the nearest Bath & Body Works store is thousands of miles away.
4. AMC Gremlin
Whether referring to unknown problems or the elf-like creatures who cause them, gremlins just don’t have a good connotation. Tiny creatures that appear out of nowhere and wreak havoc on anything mechanical, gremlins are renown for causing breakdowns and component failures at the worst possible times. When your cars aren’t known for bulletproof reliability to begin with, why would you name one after a mythical creature that created further chaos? Even AMC’s pointy eared mascot looked more menacing than cute, so I call this an epic marketing fail.
3. Ford Probe
When people report alien abductions, what’s the common theme? Generally, there’s some sort of probe inserted into some sore of body cavity usually marked with an “Exit Only” sign. Even the verb “probe” has negative meaning. None of us want to be probed by our doctors, and an IRS probe into our finances is never a good thing. Why Ford chose this name for a potential successor to the Mustang is anyone’s guess, but at least the name died with the car. Tragically, the car itself wasn’t half bad, which makes me wonder how many more they could have sold with a better name. The Ford Butt Plug, for example.
2. Dodge Dart Swinger
In the 1970s, the term “Swinger” meant someone who was cool, happening or with-it. For about fifteen minutes, and then it generally referred to someone who was over the hill and desperately trying to impress college girls. Today, it generally denotes a lifestyle where fat, middle aged men and women exchange partners for guilt-free sex with other fat middle agers. Fortunately, the Dodge Dart Swinger died off a long time ago, kind of like the Bee Gees and polyester bell bottoms.
1. Ford Mainline
Produced from 1952 to 1956, the reason why Ford named a car after slang for shooting heroin is lost to history. It does make me wonder if they bounced around the “Ford Freebase” name for an entry level model, or considered emphasizing the use of needle bearings throughout. Mercifully, the Mainline was replaced by the Ford Custom in 1957.