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  • Ash Habib

What's in a name?

A rose by any other name, you've heard the phrase from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. It's conveying the fact that a name or an appearance isn't what actually matters, it's the substance that matters. And while that's true if you're in love with someone from a rival family, Shakespeare died 300 years before the car started to kick off in popularity, so what would he know?


In the context of cars, names matter. Companies spend months and countless dollars perfecting names, then running them through focus groups and board meetings, all with the intent of having a name that's meant to convey the grand image that they've envisioned for the model or brand.


Mustang, Camaro (are you starting to see why they're referred to as Pony cars?), Challenger, Raptor, Focus, Stinger, Cherokee, Vantage, Spitfire, Demon, Viper, Testarossa, Interceptor, Diablo, Phantom, etc, etc, are all designed to invoke an immediate emotional judgement about that model. By reading the name, you're supposed to glean what that car is about. Which is all great, but the era of car names has slowly been shifting over the last 25 years or so. In an ever stats driven world, more and more car names were being eschewed in favour of an alphanumeric model name.


Basically, you bought into the brand first, and the name would then logically tell you where a specific vehicle fell into the lineup, and depending on manufacturer, even what engine was under the hood. The German brands are the easiest example of this, here's BMW for example:


BMW Cars in order of size: 2 Series, 3/4 Series, 5 Series, 7/8 Series

BMW SUVs in order of size: X1, X2, X3/X4, X5/X6, X7


Now, following the model series, the specific engine/trim is also in the name. Using the BMW 3 Series as an example, here's the hierarchy of powertrains from base to top:


BMW 320, 330, 340, M3.


It used to be that the numbers would represent engine displacement, but in the modern era that wasn't possible due to different tunes of engines, and technologies such as turbocharging that often found smaller displacement engines replacing previously larger ones. In the BMW 3 Series example above, the 320 & 330 are both 2 liter turbo 4 cylinder engines, however the 320 makes 180hp, and the 330 makes 252hp. So, even though the displacement of the engines isn't reflected anymore, the hierarchy of naming still makes sense.


So, at this point you're probably asking why I've subjected you to all of this talk about model names. Well, it's because of the Geneva Auto Show in Switzerland this week. The Geneva Auto Show is one of the world's premier auto shows, and each year, car manufacturers make announcements about new vehicles and models there. And, it's not just supercars, or the latest 1 of 1 $16 million USD Bugatti (seriously? 16 mil?). A lot of companies are showing off stuff to the press and the public that you'll actually be able to buy even if you haven't come into a trust fund or lottery win.


And that's what makes this whole naming thing come together. Mazda, a brand I'm a big fan of, said they were going to make an announcement at the show this week. Mazda announced another compact crossover joining its' lineup, slotting in size almost perfectly between the existing CX-3, and the CX-5. So logically speaking, that would be the new model would be called the CX-30 right? Wait...what the hell? Seriously? I reached out to Mazda through Instagram to see what this was about. There response was that Mazda has a CX-4 crossover in China. But that doesn't exist here, so what's the big deal in using that name here?


Apparently Car & Driver had the same question, so they reached out to reps at the show who said they "the company could not justify selling two separate vehicles under the same name in different markets". OK, that's not even a reason.


The Ford Focus from 2005-2010 was a different vehicle in North America vs. Europe, The Toyota Yaris & Corolla, Nissan Sentra, VW Jetta, & even the Nissan Pathfinder have all had versions selling in different regions that were substantially different from each other.


The fact that Mazda is making this excuse seems like someone covering up a mistake of some sort, maybe they weren't able to secure North American trademarks for CX-4 instead? Well, I did a cursory search on the US Trademark database, and the trademark for CX-4 was abandoned by Mazda in 2007!


Now, the second part of this goes back to design. Manufacturers are trending more and more to have a design language dictate the brands direction. This is why vehicles will look very similar, but be in different size classes. With the case of the Mazda CX-30, it's only about a 6 inch difference between the CX-3 and the CX-5. So, without the logic of having the CX-4 nomenclature to clearly indicate it's place in the lineup, I think this is going to lead to customer confusion and ultimately be a disservice to the model itself. I think it's a rare misstep for Mazda personally, but what do you think?


Mazda CX-3

Mazda CX-30

Mazda CX-5

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©2020 by Ash Habib Automotive Consulting.