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October 4, 2005

The Yin and Yang of Car Naming and Car Sales

I am sure you are all aware of the sharp fall off of SUV sales and the corresponding rise in subcompact sales due to rising gas prices.

The smaller vehicles include subcompact hatchbacks and sedans designed with an eye to accessibility of both the physical and financial variety: the Toyota Yaris, the Honda Fit, the Chevy Aveo, the Daewoo Kalos, the Suzuki Aerio, and now the Nissan Versa.

Nissan Versa.jpgOne of the interesting things about the Versa is that it appears to be similarly named after one of its competitors: Toyota's 2000 Yaris was called "Verso" in Europe and the UK. The Yaris won't be available in the US until 2006, but it seems a bit unlikely that Nissan was unaware of the Toyota Verso name.

Of course, emulation and cannibalization are the name of the game in the auto industry, for design and features as well as, it appears, brand names. Look at the way Honda's Odyssey minivan aimed to one-up Chrysler's Voyager with a more epic-sounding name, and so on, as other manufacturers picked up on the theme.

Toyota had a good idea calling its early Yaris "Verso." For one thing, "Yaris" doesn't mean much to English speakers, whereas is a clue to the car's points of distinction. It's easy to get into. It's easy to get out of. You can fold the rear seats way out of the way to transport stuff. Hence no doubt the origin of "Fit" for Honda's model, because you can fit people and cargo into it.

This is definitely what Nissan had in mind when it chose as the name of its new offering for the versatility of its six-foot-plus interior.

But what is versatility? Sure it implies the vehicle is versatile and can be used in many ways. I think it's ALSO interesting to consider that the original Latin word versatilis actually meant "revolving," from the verb versare, meaning to turn around or to ponder. A versus is a line or a row (from which we get our poetic "verse"). English "reverse" and "inverse" and "version" come the past participle of vertere, which means "to turn (over)," or "to exchange," "to translate," "to overthrow," or (in the passive)" to be engaged in."

As a clipped name, "Versa" is an improvement on "Verso," which is a real, if specialized, English word for the left-hand page or the back side of a coin. Surely the manufacturer wants its car to be the primary, not the secondary, attraction.

In Italian, however, versa means "he pays" or "pay up" or "pour out" or "spill," not good connotations at all. This may be why Nissan will market the Versa under the brand name "Tiida" in Mexico, where it's being built. I would recommend that they use "Tiida" in Italy, as well.

A brand name starting with the letter "V" is appropriate for the name of a car: not only is it the V of victory and velocity, but its sound is that of a revving engine - vroom! - and in fact its shape is that of many car engines as well. "Versa" is not as exciting a name as, say, "Vibe," which Pontiac picked for a similar model, but it rolls right along.

yingYangWhy did I refer to this blog post as Yin and Yang? I predict that subcompact sales will decline and SUV sales will have a rebirth at some point in the future. It's the Chinese theory of Yin and Yang.

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Posted by Diane Prange at October 4, 2005 11:44 AM
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» The Rise and Fall of the SUV from Strategic Name Development Product Naming Blog
In my recent blog, "The Yin and Yang of Car Naming and Car Sales," I acknowledged the sharp fall off in SUV sales. However, Andy Malinoski in his "Marketing Genius from Maple Creative" blog personalizes the recent decline of the... [Read More]

Tracked on October 10, 2005 1:18 PM

» The Rise and Fall of the SUV from Strategic Name Development Product Naming Blog
In my recent post, "The Yin and Yang of Car Naming and Car Sales," I acknowledged the sharp fall off in SUV sales. However, Andy Malinoski in his "Marketing Genius from Maple Creative" blog personalizes the recent decline of the SUV with a eulogy to th... [Read More]

Tracked on November 12, 2006 5:36 PM

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