Understanding How Cars Are Named

April 12, 2017 in Daily Bulletin

Dan Nosowitz delved into the past and present of how car models are named:

  • American car names have typically reflected current trends. In the 1930s and 1940s “the Zephyr”, “the Commander”, and, the retrospectively unfortunate “Dictator” were marketed.
  • With the advent of the space race in the 70s and 80s Americans were buying “Comets”, “Meteors”, and “Satellites”.
  • When Mercedes Benz entered the American market, it differentiated itself as a maker of luxury cars. Its habit of using alphanumeric code names (e.g., “Mercedes-Benz 770K”) began to be emulated by anyone trying to make high-end cars.
  • The trend continues. Today the rich can choose among the Lexus LS500, Volvo S90, and Mercedes CLS550.
  • Meanwhile most Americans will purchase a Honda Accord or Toyota Highlander.
  • Using an alphanumeric code name for a vehicle keeps the focus on the fact that the car is a Mercedes Benz – the model is unimportant – helping to enhance the automaker’s brand.
  • It also helps preserve the value of a car by mitigating the risk of anachronistic car names. Who, after 1939, would have wanted to purchase “The Dictator”?

Read more on Atlas Obscura.