From a marketing perspective, having the right name is far more critical for a vehicle than its features, performance specs, or even design. A well-thought out and convincing name gives customers an image of strength, value, quality, and prestige, guaranteeing strong sales and popularity. Unfortunately, many strong and cool-sounding names are already taken, and manufacturers sometimes struggle to find new ones. Finding appropriate names in other languages is often the best way to provide the vehicle with a cool-sounding name. There is however always a significant risk that what sounds perfect in one language may be very offensive in another. Here are five of the best, or should we say worst examples.
There is nothing offensive about the Hyundai Kona. It is a simple and popular compact SUV with decent features, driving dynamics, and price. It also comes as an electric version for those who want to be especially kind to the environment. So, why is it featured on our list? Well, in most parts of the world, Kona means nothing in particular, just four letters combined in a simple word. However, in Portugal, Brazil, and the rest of the Portuguese-speaking countries, Kona is a derogative and very offensive term describing a particular part of the female anatomy. At first, Hyundai`s marketing people didn’t have a clue, but as soon as their colleagues from Portugal called, company managers decided to change the name to Kauai. At least, for customers in Portugal and Brazil.
Back in the late `80s, Ford decided to retire the Mustang and, instead of a rear-wheel-drive coupe with V8, introduced something more sensible and based on a front-wheel-drive platform from Mazda. Fortunately, due to enormous protests from the muscle-car loving fan base, Ford`s bosses killed that idea. They kept the Mustang running freely but presented the Ford Probe, a junior sports car with aerodynamic styling and a funny name. Although they thought that the Probe would project visions of some NASA space ship discovering galaxies far, far away, for most people, the name Probe sounded like a proctological device. This was not a very pleasant association and ultimately led to a not very successful car.
Audi TT Coupé
This one is an interesting and slightly morbid entry to the list, and it is about the Audi TT Coupé. You might think that there is nothing that can go wrong when you have two of the same letters (TT) and one universally used word like Coupé. But it can. The “TT Coupé” in French is pronounced very similar to the term “Tete coupe,” which means “cut-off head.” We even think that there is a strange connection between the guillotine from French history and a sports coupé from Germany since both chop heads.
Now, here is a real treat for people looking for unusual cars, names, and automotive obscurities. No, we didn’t make this up, and there really was a car named the Gaylord Gladiator. Introduced in the `50s by two wealthy brothers and named after their hometown of Gaylord, Michigan, the Gladiator was a fast and luxurious sports car. Back in those days, the word “gay” only meant “joyful” or “carefree,” however, the primary meaning of this term has significantly changed over the years. The Gaylord Gladiator wasn’t a successful project. Even though it was well designed and powerful it was also very expensive and complicated. If somebody tried to make a car with the same name today, we think that even members of the LGBT community would be offended, not to mention the outrage from more conservative members of society.
The car industry in Japan has a long history of producing cars with strange names. In most cases, names are funny like the Suzuki Cappuccino, Mazda Bongo, or Mitsubishi Lettuce, but there are some weird ones like our fifth car on the list – the Daihatsu Naked. The Naked is a tiny, boxy Kei Car, designed and sold only in Japan. It has a microscopic, three-cylinder engine with just 658 ccm and up to 63 HP. It is perfect for narrow Tokyo streets, enormous traffic jams in Japan, and small parking places. However, there is the name – Naked. We still cannot figure out, should you drive naked or you feel naked when you are driving this Daihatsu?
Toyota is the most popular car brand in the Australian market, and one of the secrets of its success is their wide range of models. When Toyota Australia developed a more dynamic and sporty version of the Avalon, they made a list of several potential names and sent them to their bosses in Japan. One of the names on the list was Chicane. For most people in the world, the word “chicane” sounds cool since it is connected to the racing world and also symbolizes performance and winning. In Japan, however, a “chicane” is a pervert who attacks women on public transport. Needless to say, the Toyota Chicane never entered production.