The auto industry has its share of bad names, and we’re not talking bad car names. No, these are bad industry names: drivetrains, technologies or trim-naming schemes that leave car shoppers scratching their heads, rolling their eyes or just plain laughing. Our editors racked their heads for the choicest bungles, and here are our top 10. Some are marketing missteps; others are engineer speak that marketers should have rescued.
The Worst Auto-Industry Name
Look up “coupe” in any leading dictionary, and you’ll read about an enclosed two-door car. Common vernacular agrees, despite the industry’s attempts to prove otherwise. Automakers from BMW (6 Series Gran Coupe) and Mercedes-Benz (CLS-Class, CLA-Class) to Acura (ZDX) and Volkswagen (CC) claim their coupes have sprung an extra two entryways without becoming sedans. Audi lowered the bar further with the A7/S7/RS7, which it calls a “five-door coupe” — a reference to the car’s rear hatch that mirrors a slew of econoboxes that are marketed under the anything-but-hatchback “five-door.” We digress. Four-door coupes are nothing of the sort. These are sedans or hatchbacks, depending where their trunks hinge. They may be svelte, and they may have coupelike rooflines. But they are not coupes.
And Nearly As Bad
BMW i3 Trim Levels
Maybe this is a preemptive call out in hopes that BMW will hard-a-starboard before hitting the iceberg. In July, the automaker debuted its new i3 electric hatchback chock-full of innovative materials and an available gasoline range extender. But when the car goes on sale in early 2014, it will come in three lifestyle-oriented trims that parallel numerical prefixes: Mega, Giga and Tera. (You know: megabyte, gigabyte, terabyte.) Mega will be the base model, but it’s still unclear what each of those trims will include. And will we see Peta down the road? It’s especially bizarre coming from BMW, whose popular 3 Series comes in normal packages like Luxury, Sport and M Sport. Tech geeks might appreciate the i3 trims, but we wish BMW had stuck to the names it uses elsewhere.
Nissan introduced CarWings overseas in early 2007 as an internet-enabled system through which you could analyze your driving efficiency (or lack thereof) online. Since then it’s spread to other Nissan models, most notably the electric Leaf, where CarWings allows you to check your battery status, start or stop the charging or fire up the climate control via smartphone. Cool, right? Yeah — except for the name, which evokes wings, flight and all things airborne. Problem is, the Leaf, like all other cars except Terrafugia’s Transition, does not fly. The Ford Focus Electric and Chevrolet Volt have MyFord and OnStar RemoteLink apps, respectively, which offer similar functions. Either naming scheme would have been better.
Chrysler’s Trim Levels
Chrysler used to have a pretty standard alphabet soup of trim names: SE, SXT, R/T and the like. Then in 2010, the automaker ditched most of those on its Dodge brand for bizarre monikers like Express, Heat, Mainstreet, Rush and Uptown. Those were for the Caliber hatchback alone, by the way. The Nitro SUV had range-topping absurdities like Detonator and Shock — the latter a harbinger, perhaps, to owners’ first-time reactions to the SUV’s 16 mpg EPA city rating. Thankfully the madness was short-lived. That’s a good thing, but the spirit lives on with Chrysler’s Fiat parent, whose 500 and 500L have trims like Lounge and Trekking. Alas, the latter does not come with a “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” DVD. Sigh.
Honda’s bid to improve gas mileage with a slate of drivetrain technology — spokesman Chris Martin calls it “a philosophy of technology development” — includes direct-injection engines, cylinder deactivation and upgraded transmissions. We applaud the results but not the name. Oh, Earth Dreams. Phew. We feared Honda might have a case of Saturn or Mercury dreams. Our friends at GM and Ford tell us those can mean many years of therapy.
Mazda’s fuel-efficiency initiative has led to higher — and sometimes class-leading — mileage for the CX-5, Mazda3 and Mazda6. Unfortunately, the name grates like a song that stops before the final note. Call us fussbudgets, but the missing “e” at the end is almost as irritating as the term itself, which suggests Delta and Dannon teamed up for in-flight yogurt. Indeed, Mazda’s chief marketing officer, Russell Wager, admitted to Forbes magazine that SkyActiv is “not easy to understand” and only becomes apparent after you see all the efficiency measures. It’s time to change the name, Mazda. EfficientDynamics (BMW) and EcoBoost (Ford) don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but at least they leave little to the imagination.
Audi’s ‘T’ Designations
Long a designation for turbocharging, Audi’s “T” graced cars such as the four-cylinder A4 (1.8T, 2.0T), A5 (2.0T) and Q5 (2.0T). Today, it’s affixed to the mighty twin-turbo V-8s in the S6, A8 and S8. But somewhere in between, Audi ascribed T to the supercharged V-6 in the S4, A6 and A8. In trunk or fender badging, where it’s either 3.0T or V6T, the T stands for “supercharged.” And that makes about as much sense as New Coke.
Focus groups must love blue. Everyone uses it. BlueEfficiency (Mercedes-Benz) and Blue Drive (Hyundai) are fuel-efficiency initiatives; Bluetec (Mercedes again) and BluePerformance (BMW) refer to diesel. And the industry widely uses AdBlue, a solution of urea fluid that treats emissions in most of those diesel cars. (We’re pretty sure the focus groups didn’t like “urea.”) Heck, even for the efficiency programs that don’t say blue, the color shows up. Nissan’s mileage-minded Pure Drive badging is blue; so is Mazda’s SkyActiv badging on certain Mazda3s, with matching blue across the engine cover. It goes beyond drivetrains: Bluetooth has been around since 1998, and in 2011 Hyundai introduced Blue Link, a telematics system to rival GM’s OnStar. You get the idea. It’s time to diversify, industry. You’re making us blue.
Sports Activity Vehicle
BMW’s insistence on calling its SUVs by a separate term — sports activity vehicles or SAV — is like a company that refers to itself as a “solutions provider” instead of whatever the hell it actually does. BMW introduced the term more than a decade ago with the 2000 X5 SUV SAV, defending the acronym on grounds that the X5 delivered BMW dynamics with four-wheel drive — and besides, its car-based platform prioritized on-road drivability, so you could leave the off-roading to legitimate, truck-based SUVs. The industry eventually came up with its own word for that: “crossovers,” or the insipid CUV (crossover utility vehicle), a term that exactly zero consumers use. Car-based or truck-based, people in the real world call them SUVs. BMW should, too.
WHIPS and SIPS
It’s no question Volvo has spurred the auto industry toward better safety technology. In 1999, the Swedish automaker’s Whiplash Protection System elevated rear-impact protection; in 1991 its Side Impact Protection System pioneered better side-impact crashworthiness, eventually spawning the first seat-mounted side airbags in 1994 and side-curtain airbags in 1998. But the systems’ names — WHIPS and SIPS — are guffaw-worthy, especially since the hip-hop community popularized the term “whips” as, well, a hot car. We think it would take a lot of aftermarket blingification to turn an S80 into something T-Pain would sing auto-tune praises about.