We return to the minefield of automotive nomenclature. Mind where you step.
The process of naming a new car can be surprisingly complex and drawn-out, and even then certain pitfalls are sometimes overlooked, causing delays, unplanned expenditure and in a few cases, embarrassment and retraction. These pitfalls can be largely be categorized in lingual miscues (mostly of the sexual or scatological variety), historically insensitive names, legal copyright infringements, or simple bad luck.*
To start with that latter category: Tata Motors introduced a new small car in 2016 named Zica. Unfortunately for the Indian manufacturer, the introduction coincided with the outbreak of the fearsome Zika virus in South America; the Zica hastily renamed Tiago. All press photos had to be redone, previously built Zicas had to be rebadged and the publicity material already printed was by necessity destroyed.
By far the most common (and possibly amusing) cause of nameplate trouble is using a word to christen your new car which seems perfectly innocent in your own language, yet transpires to be anything but in another. Toyota’s MR2 (phonetically merde in French) and the Rolls-Royce Silver Mist are both well documented.
By the way, the Mist-to-Shadow renaming reason is absolutely true: it was confirmed to me by the late Roger C’Raster who was responsible for the sales and marketing of Rolls-Royce in North America in the 1950s and 1960s and Royal Family relations later on.
To these scatological mishaps, the Fiat Regata may be added. In the Swedish language the word means pile of dung. Therefore a ‘t’ was added to create Regatta for cars sold there. Nissan’s Moco is a mini-MPV only marketed in Japan and southeast Asia. If Nissan has any plans to sell the Moco in Spanish speaking areas they would be wise to think of again as moco means snot in Spanish. A name change would also be in order for Mazda, who sold a Kei-car in their domestic market badged Laputa – a female sex-worker in Spain.
Automotive nomenclature has repeatedly been the cause of sniggering in certain countries for being a close or sometimes exact match for the local slang for either male or female genitalia or their usage in the act of self-pleasure. Opel was forced to drop the Ascona name in Portugal and replace it with the rather prosaic 1604 since it turned out to be Portuguese slang for that centre of male desire. Recently Hyundai had to change the Kona name to Kauai in Portugal for broadly similar reasons.
Honda’s Beat did not cause the Japanese firm trouble in France (phonetically it is French slang for the male member), largely since the Beat was sold only in its home market. The Honda Fitta however was quickly rechristened Fit or Jazz depending on the market: Fitta was discovered to be Danish and Swedish slang for its female equivalent.
In the same vein the Mitsubishi Pajero, Buick LaCrosse and Seat Malaga were rebadged Montero, Allure and Gredos respectively because the original names chosen were slang for masturbation in Spanish, Canadian, French, and Greek.
Toyota Australia had their own little miscue when they proposed the name Chicane for a sporty version of the Toyota Aurion. The Japanese head office urged them to choose another name as the word chicane is uncomfortably close to the Japanese word chikan which is the term for a sex-offender who gropes women on public transport.
An example of a historically insensitive name occurred when Toyota planned to bring the Centaur model to Australia and the USA. Headquarters in Toyota City was informed that Centaur was also the name of an allied hospital ship sunk by a Japanese submarine in world war 2. The name was quickly changed to Avalon.
In some cases there are quite prosaic reasons for a namechange: Citroën aficionados with sharp eyes (or tight anoraks) may have noticed while on vacation in Spain or Argentina that the luxury versions of the GS, GSA and CX are named Palas there, with just a single l, instead of Pallas. This is because in the Spanish language the word Pallas is written as Palas in the same way that in the Dutch language the name of the British capital is spelled Londen and not London.
Staying with the double chevron, in the former republic of Yugoslavia CIMOS (Citroën-Tomos) produced the Dyane, GS and GSA under license for a number of years but the Dyane was renamed Diana and the GSA became GA. We have no explanation (as yet) for the Dyane/Diana discrepancy, but it appears that CIMOS chose GA to discriminate between their domestically made model and the French GSA, to make it more recognizable as a genuine Yugoslavian car.
Since CIMOS only started to make the preceding GS after production had already got underway in France they did not change the name, although CIMOS did use different designations.
Then there are the cases of a name already (legally) being taken in certain countries or territories by other car manufacturers. Ford was forced to rename the Mustang to T5 in Germany because the German truck manufacturer Krupp had registered the name for one of their large trucks. After Krupp’s copyright expired in late 1979, Mustangs could be sold as such in Germany.
Volvo ran into trouble with Audi for initially naming its 440/460 successor S4. This happened very late into the process, as a pre-series of cars had already been produced and brochures printed. This scribe was fortunate to know someone who worked at the NedCar Volvo factory in Born who managed to secure a few copies of the S4 brochure before they were destroyed. The solution to the problem was of course to add a zero. S40 it was.
In Sweden, the Citroën Ami 8 had to be rebadged Mi 8 because an automotive supplies company named Ami Motors had registered the rights to the name. Citroën was also prevented from using the Ami name in Spain, as it was a registered name for a brand of biscuits there. Therefore the Ami 8 was simply named 8, and the Ami 6 became the Dynam.
Fiat ran into trouble with Renault in 2003 when they introduced the long awaited successor to original Panda under the name Gingo at the Geneva Motor Show. Apart from the dubious decision to abandon a name with so much brand-capital, it was puzzling that Fiat did not appreciate the (too) close proximity in nomenclature to Twingo. Renault’s management did not wait for the end of the show to express their displeasure, but initially Fiat did not want to hear of it. It was only after serious legal action was threatened that Fiat recanted: it would simply be Panda again. The phrase ‘told you so‘ comes to mind.
*There are also a few rare cases where a numerical nameplate can cause unrest
The author would like to thank Lorentz Osterling, Gunter Busse, Alejandro Beiroa, and Marc Stabèl for their help in providing information for this article.