The great Carroll Shelby was once asked why he named his car the Shelby GT350 since 350 wasn’t the power figure or displacement. He replied: “If the car is good, the name won’t matter. If the car is bad, the name will not save it”. He’s got a point, however, there have actually been a few cars that were affected by their unfortunate name choice. There are numerous examples when marketing departments choose names that don’t translate very well in different languages. Some names were pointless, but some were downright problematic, indecent, or rude. Needless to say, when the model name translates badly into one language, the market position of this car is pretty much ruined. Today, we will tell you about six funny examples when car names don’t translate well at all.
Ford Kuga is a popular compact SUV model sold both in Europe and America as well as in other markets. It is currently in its third generation, and this model offers a decent amount of space, modern design, and a long list of standard equipment with dependable mechanics. The name “Kuga” means nothing in most languages, although Ford claims that it is derivative of the name “Cougar,” which was already used on Ford and Mercury models. However, the name “Kuga” in Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian, and other Balkan languages means “Plague”, as in terrible infectious disease, which devastated Europe in the 14th century. Although the plague is pretty much gone now in the 21st century, its still kind of disturbing to drive your family in a car with the same name as one of the worst diseases in human history.
The Chevrolet Nova was a very accomplished car by General Motors, which was introduced in the early `60s and sold in several generations until 1988. It was very popular not only in America but in the rest of the world. The name suggested that the Nova was, in fact, a new class for GM since the production of compact cars was a somewhat new venture for this company.
However, in Spanish speaking countries, Nova had problems since “No Va” means “It doesn’t go.” This was an everlasting source of jokes at Chevrolets expense. Regardless, the Nova proved to be moderately popular in those countries, mostly due to the fact it was cheap and reliable transportation.
The third car on our list also had problems with Spanish-speaking customers. In 1999, Mazda introduced a compact Kei car called the Laputa, which was sold mostly in Asian markets. The problems arose when the Laputa was offered in South America. Although Mazda claimed that the name “Laputa” was borrowed from the book called “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World”, Spanish speaking customers understood it quite differently.
In the Spanish language, “La puta” is a derogative term describing a prostitute. Needless to say, Mazda changed the name into something much more sensible for the South American market.
When it was launched in 1984, the Toyota MR2 was accepted with universal acclaim almost everywhere in the world. The combination of smart engineering, sublime handling, and lively performance still is appealing even 35 years later. However, in France, Toyota sold this model as simply the “Toyota MR” without the 2.
Apparently, MR2 could be read as “M-R Deux,” which sounds very similar to the word “merde” (meaning turd). Understandably, Toyota didn’t want to be associated with such terms, so the car was rebadged as the Toyota MR for French and Belgium markets.
In Europe and America, Honda sold its little compact model known as the Jazz, but in some other markets, it was known as the Honda Fitta. The rumor goes that Honda even printed the brochures and prepared magazine ads using the Fitta name but then discovered that “Fitta” is a naughty word in Scandinavian languages; Lets just say it describes a specific part of the female anatomy!
Knowing that naming the car Fitta was out of the question, Honda`s market strategists needed to come up with a different name. Eventually, they chose “Jazz” as a neutral and cool term, which was used in most markets.
You probably remember the Pajero, a once famous and well-built SUV from Mitsubishi. During the `90s, Pajeros were sold all over the world, but for Spanish speaking countries, Mitsubishi named this model the Montero. Apparently, the word “Pajero” is an extremely derogative term, which is roughly translated as “wanker” in English. Realizing this, Mitsubishi gave the car a different and more neutral name – Montero. Over the years, this became one of the most popular and well-known cases of a bad translation in car history.
So there you are. Are there others that I forgot? Let me know in the comments below.