Lost In Translation – Automotive Vehicle Names

1980's Cortina Adverts

As we know from my previous articles, I used to call my fathers Ford Cortina a ‘Malteaser’ back in the 1980s, but that was a misheard child’s translation This made me think, are there any other automotive brands that didn’t quite think their product naming through before proceeding to launch to market? – especially when the product being launched has the potential to go global.

When it comes to international expansion, brands need to translate more than just words. From advertising to product images/names and the brand name itself, when a company enters a new market they need to translate the very essence of what the company stands for while working with a totally different language, culture and set of traditions and sensitivities – no easy task.


The Name Game

Unfortunately, many companies still fall into translation traps after missing one or more issues during this localisation process. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant automotive product naming failures.


Chevrolet Nova / Vauxhall Nova

Chevy Nova

Vauxhall Nova

For the market in Spain “Nova” which was used by Chevrolet, simply translates into “doesn’t work” (“no va”). The British Vauxhall Nova managed to escape this fate, as it was sold as the Opel Corsa in the rest of the world. Nicely saved Vauxhall!


Audi TT Coupé

Audi TT Coupé

It is not just the older car names that don’t translate well. Another example for the French-speaking audience This time it actually kept the name: The Audi TT Coupé when spoken is said similar to “Tete coupé” – which means a cut-off head.


Lamborghini Reventón

Lamborghini Reventón

Even 2 million-dollar supercars can have questionable names – although this one is actually pretty funny. As a Lamborghini tradition, it’s named after a bull, in Spanish, “Reventón” means “blowout” or “flat tyre”. 

It is not just naming a product, faux pas happen in campaigns also.

Ford Motor Company and their efforts in the Netherlands almost got them in hot water with the police with a murder investigation. “Every car has a high-quality body” was the chosen word in a campaign and was translated to “Every car has a high-quality corpse”.

Reliable and very accurate translations are needed to make your global marketing understandable to your desired target market and not make all that effort a laughing stock of certain nations.


Getting Product Naming Right

What an automotive product name should be:

  • It should be readable and writable.
  • It should be short, punchy and memorable.
  • It should look well written down and sound good to say.
  • It should evoke an emotion, feeling or idea.
  • It should translate well.

Why it is so important:

  • Brand potential: Product titles should be in line with your brand.
  • Market appeal: Knowing about your target audience, the more aligned product names will be. Speak your customer’s language.
  • Visibility: Make sure your product is easy to find and search for online.
  • Uniqueness: Don’t compete with an over-saturated marketplace. Make it stand out.
  • Scalability: Global or local? Is it part of a line or stand-alone?

Ultimately, knowing how to get your product naming strategy right gives you another way to captivate your audience. This is where WDA Automotive’s 25 years of Branding, Naming and Strategy can help. Product naming best practices are good for you and your audience. They:

  • Help your customer choose the item that’s for them: Names give people the information they need to make a more confident decision.
  • Get confidence in your brand: The right product names help to establish consistency in your brand identity and image.


Did You Find This Article Interesting?

Read our comprehensive article about ‘Effective Automotive Brand Naming’ and how WDA Automotive approaches such projects by clicking here.

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