You may know that a good car is hard to find right now. But it seems that a good car name has always been hard to come by.
It caught my attention when I saw a story being circulated by the American Automobile Association (“AAA”) about The Worst Car Names. I came into the article biased. I assumed I was going to read a bunch of tired old stories about already well-known brand names. The chance that AAA will teach me – me! – about brand names was stupid.
Of course I was wrong. They’ve unearthed some pretty obscure and very interesting facts. They listed these brand names (in alphabetical order):
Deliboy (by Toyota, maybe they define their van market a little too narrowly)
Friend Me (Nissan)
LeCar (by Renault)
LeFerrari (guess who…?)
Mysterious Utility Wizard (Isuzu)
Pro Ceed (by Kia)
That’s (by Honda, who clearly believed the more formal “That is” just didn’t have any punch)
When I first approached the AAA article, I expected to read about all the bad car names “left on the side of the road”, “as part of the junkyard” or “names that just couldn’t get a grip”. Instead, I saw names that may have been marketing missteps, but generally not legal ones.
Okay, so LeCar and LeFerrari are easy targets.
Not mentioned above, but still remarkable – calling a car “Dictator” at the start of WWII? Maybe a mistake. (That was Studebaker, by the way.)
But the interesting thing about these other brand names is that most of them would have been a trademark attorney’s dream. Not too descriptive, not too general. The list generally gives some names that are winners from the legal side of things. If you want a name that you can really – quickly – build into a strong brand, you’d do pretty well with the rest of this lot.
They are names that are unusual in the world of car model names. They do not describe the product. These features make trademarks easier to register, less likely to encounter similar brands for the same or related products, and generally easier to protect.
We know that all these models were failures. With any failure, it’s easy to associate a poorly conceived product with the awful name that identified it. In reality, that “bad” name just gets attached to the folklore of a brand that couldn’t save it, and maybe in some cases it never really prayed. The bad product tarnishes the name. There is no inherent reason why “Brat” couldn’t be “Silverado” or “Aries”. Or, for that matter, the ever-evocative trademark for Ford’s best-selling product: “F-150”. A glamorous name, it is not. I’m not suggesting that this list of product graveyard names were all brilliant for cars. But if the cars were successful, the names would have become iconic too.
Are good used car names scarcer than good used cars? In the case of these “worst” names, maybe not. Of course, you could probably call a used car in good condition “Rosebud” at this point and it would sell quickly and well above its previous book value.