Automotive: September 2005 Archives


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Yellow TaxiEven if your only language is English, there's one word you can say in Basque, Czech, Dutch, French, Galician, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, and Valencian. To add Portuguese to the list, all you need is an accent over the "a". While you might misspell Turkish "taksi" or Japanese "takushi", you'll pronounce it just fine.

How did this word get to be so ubiquitous? "Taximeter" was the name Wilhelm Brun gave to his 1891 invention for measuring the distance traveled in a hired vehicle. Brun's classical education shows: "taximeter" comes from Medieval Latin taxa, meaning a tax or charge, and Greek metron, meaning "measure." The shortened form "taxi" first appeared in English in 1907.

KleenexXeroxBecause "Taxi" was a product name, it was imported intact into other languages along with the carriages and automobiles in which the taximeter was installed. Like "" or "," the taxi brand has been generalized, or has become a generic term, to include similar unbranded products.

is the latest example of a company that recognized the power of a nickname trademarked as their company name. In this case rather than trademarking a company nickname, they chose an international term for cellular phones, mobi, a clipping of mobile. Mobi

Mobi PCS is in good company. Coca-Cola trademarked its nickname Coke and Federal Express trademarked its nickname FedEx.

Although not trademarked, other well-known popular brands with nicknames include Lex for Lexus, Beamer for BMW, Belvi for Belvedere Vodka, Merz for Mercedes-Benz.

Will other companies follow the road of Mobi and Coca-Cola or insist that consumers refer to them by their trademarked name as does?

I guess time will tell.

Google This. One "G" Too Many

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In an earlier blog on September 2, I reported on the new George Foreman grill, which uses "G5" in the product name. The letter "G" has also been used by Apple to identify its next generation computers, the latest being the G5 series. And, Pontiac introduced the G6 car.

The interest of using "G" in a product name continues, but not without some potential conflicts as reported by CNET. Google is being challenged by German Giersch Ventures who obtained a temporary court order preventing Google from using the "Gmail" name.

Additionally, Independent II Research, is challenging the "Gmail" moniker in the UK and has been using the "G" since May 2002 to represent the Graphiti web-based email product name.

What is it about the appeal of "G" for a product name? Latin constantly confused the "g" and "k" sounds; therefore, Spurius Carvilius Ruga invented the seventh letter of the Roman alphabet (c. 300-230 BCE).

"G" also stands for "money" in vernacular, "government," and the "g-force," which pilots refer to as "G's". It also represents "ground floor" in architecture and "acceleration" when presented in physics equations in lower case.

What product name will want to use the "G" moniker next? Or, should they?

Armor Holdings has just rebranded its mobile security division, grouping several subsidiaries under the company name Centigon.

Centigon,” a name coined by Armor's naming company, is certainly easier to say and more memorable than “Trasco GmbH, Labbe, S.A., and O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Co.” But is it the right name for this business?

Centigon rhymes with “Pentagon,” which evokes defense and security—appropriate to the business Armor Holdings is in.

Given that Centigon manufactures armored vehicles, the “-gon” also suggests an origin in “wagon.” So far, so good.

But does the name live up to its billing? According to the naming agency's recent press release, the name “borrows from the word ‘sentry,’ suggesting protection, fortification and strength, and the word ‘paragon,’ indicating a model of excellence.”

The concern I have is that “Centigon” does not call to mind either sentries or paragons. The English word “sentry” actually comes to us via French from the Latin “sentire,” meaning to hear or perceive; the Romans used “custos” or “vigil” to mean “sentry.” Everyone who has ever held a penny knows that the “cent-” root means “one hundred.” If the rebranding objective was to have people think of "sentries," why not spell the new company name with an “S”?

The “-gon” is equally problematic. The “-gon” in “paragon” is actually the Italian form of the Greek word “akone,” meaning “whetstone,” but I doubt Centigon’s customer will know or even guess that. The Greek words from which most English words get their “-gon” roots or endings are “agon,” meaning “contest” (as in “antagonist”), and “gonu,” meaning “knee” or “angle.”

A hundred-angled figure would actually be a hekatogon, but only a Greek speaker or a mathematician would know that.

Everyone encounters pentagons and hexagons in junior-high math classes, but paragons are rarer creatures. Centigon’s customers are unlikely to be expecting one.

Airline and Auto Touched by the Gods

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Boeing 757The introduction of the super luxury airline Eos is another example of how naming a product in the airline business has moved from dull place references - American Airlines, Northwest, USAir -to names that are short, catchy, evocative and easy to remember - Song, Ted, Virgin.

Eos is a super luxury airline for transatlantic business customers accommodating only 48 passengers on a Boeing 757 jet.

EosIn Greek mythology Eos was the winged goddess of the dawn, mother of the winds, and the evening and morning star.

Eos is a clever name for an airline that promises to treat its passengers divinely by offering them space, service, and creature comforts like personal DVD players, cashmere blankets and meals served on fine china.

Passengers who depart from New York to London in the evening will wake up to the dawn, while travelers coming back from overseas will experience the stars.

Volkswagen, long aware of the power of simple, punchy names — Golf, Beetle, Jetta — will also be using Eos as the product name of its new Concept C coupe, an apt name for its new convertible.

VW EosDriving with the top down, the driver and passengers will be able to feel the wind and see the stars. The ancients often referred to Eos riding a chariot pulled by horses across the sky, surely a nice parallel to the impressive 1.6-liter 115- horsepower VW Eos.

Both products are for upscale consumers - few will be lucky enough to be touched by the gods.

Power Mac or Power Lunch? You Decide on Which G5!

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George Foreman

The tenth anniversary of the partnership between George Foreman and Salton will be commemorated with the production of the new George Foreman® G5 Next Grilleration grill.

George Forman Grill The G5 marks one of the greatest stories of how properly naming a product can radically transform a business. In 1995, after naming a poorly selling health grill the “George Foreman Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine” and asking the hamburger loving heavyweight champ to be its spokesman, sales took off to represent more than 45% of the company's $922 million in revenue by 2002, making the Foreman Grill one of the great knock outs in the product naming business.

Macintosh G5 The G5 shares the same name as Apple’s Power Mac G5, which debuted in June 2003. Apple may skip the G6 moniker with its next generation computer to avoid potential confusion with the Pontiac G6.

Pontiac G6Pontiac introduced the G6 series, or Oprah car, which the talk show host gave out to surprised audience members in 2004 to mark the start of her 19th season.

And while the target market of Oprah-watching, burger-grilling computer aficionados out there may be small, it does make one wonder if somebody in charge of naming product extensions for Salton hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that “G” might represent more to consumers than simply “George” or “grill”.