Automotive: October 2005 Archives

European "Yaris" More Hip than American "Echo"?

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Toyota Yaris.gif Have you ever heard of Toyota Yaris? No? Well, apparently, Europe has never heard of the Toyota Echo. Instead, the Europeans have always had the Toyota Yaris. UK auto review site called the 2000 Yaris Verso a car "aimed squarely at the over-50s." Now Toyota of Canada is trying to catch the attention of the under-25s by introducing a promotion campaign called (who looks a bit young to be anyone's uncle) in an attempt to change the image of the Toyota Echo along with its name.

What's wrong with "Echo"? Well, called the Echo a "clown's car," possibly after Echo the Clown. That might not make "Echo" the equivalent of "Bozo," but it does suggest that echo was a less than felicitous choice. The essential problem with an echo is that it can't say anything original.

Since "Yaris" doesn't mean anything in either English or any other European languages, it's immuned to those automatic negative connotations. What "Yaris" does have is a meaning by association, and the "Uncle Yaris" campaign shows that Toyota hopes "Yaris" will mean "European-and-therefore-cool" to prospective North American buyers.

I dont' agree with that, but time will tell.

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Product Name: China Wants Your Brand

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Chery Car I came across an article published in the that covered an interesting topic on brand names. Apparently, China is no longer satisfied with being the supplier of choice for many well-loved US brand names, they want to take over. Their strategy? Push their own brands, like Chery automobiles and Haier refrigerators, or else try to snap up well-loved USA and European brands like RCA, MG Rover and Maytag.

LenovoThe Lenovo Group, China's biggest PC maker, has gone as far as to sponsor the Olympics and to take over the ThinkPad brand name from IBM -- along with the rest of its personal computer business. Consumer surveys have shown that we don't care where the product comes from, as long as it's inexpensive, and China in reaction to the glut of foreign brands that dominate the Chinese marketplace.

, the world's largest TV maker after its acquisition of Thomson in France and Great Wall Computer Group (could there be a more Chinese name?), plans to make its name "known across the world" according to the company's spokesman.

But the shortcut to world recognition still lays in foreign brand acquisition. At least one analyst has posited that China National Offshore Oil Corp's foiled for Unocal in June is a proof that the country has recognized an undervalued USA export: global brands.

So, what's next? Should China Buy Wal-Mart? If so, I think they may call it Great Wal-Mart.

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"Scirocco" Blows "Rivo" Away

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VW Concept Car500 I came across the recent article in about Volkswagen wanting to return its Scirocco in 2008.

Volkswagen's Concept R coupe doesn't look at all like the Scirocco of the 1980s, which was a modestly sporty wedge-shaped hatchback. The Concept R looks, actually, like a knock-off of the Porsche Boxster or the BMW Z4, and therefore far more deserving of the name "Scirocco" than the earlier model.

scirocco.jpgWhat exactly is a scirocco, besides a once-and-future Volkswagen? It's an alternative spelling of "sirocco," which comes from the Arabic sharuq ("east") and means a hot desert wind out of the Sahara, which by the time it hits the Mediterranean and translates itself into polysyllabic Italian has also picked up plenty of moisture. As a wind, it can be oppressive, but as a name for a sports car, it's wonderful.

Of course, any Italian name rolls -- that's the beauty of a language where almost every word ends in a vowel. But "scirocco" is also onomatopoetic, with the initial "shhh" sound echoing the wind -- which in this case will be the wind of passage as the car whips past you on the Autobahn. It sounds fast.

The proposed alternate name for this car, Rivo, just doesn't have the romance, never mind the sexiness, of "Scirocco." I could imagine some play on the initial R, á la the Motorola ROKR and RAZR, if they were calling it the Rive (as in "arrive" or the Rive Gauche), but Rivo? Not in Francophone Canada, please: RIVO is the Réseau d'Intervention Auprès des Personnes Ayant Subi la Violence Organisée, and whatever claims one makes for a coupe, it's difficult to picture it as an agency designed to help the victims of organized crime. In Italian, Rivo means "stream," which conjures up a pleasant ambling along, except perhaps during snowmelt in the Alps.

The only positive aspect of the name Rivo for this car is that a stream is cooling and the wind off the desert is stifling. But if you were a sports car, which one would you rather be?

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New Hotel Name: Singing the Praises of Capella

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Recently, I noticed that the CEO of West Paces Hotel Group LLC, Horst Schulze, announced the launch of a new top-tier hotel brand called .

This is a hotel chain designed to cater to a new niche of the ultra rich travelers, now being referred to in the industry as the . Jetrosexuals want the very finest in everything, whether it be the Dior pajamas on Air France or a ride in a Porsche out to your jet offered by Lufthansa.

CapellaCapella offers a series of boutique hotels: think small castles and beachfront estates with under a hundred rooms in Ireland and Mexico to begin with; smoking rooms, billiards and spas, and you get the picture. At least one observer has pointed out that Capella's major will be getting around more well-known hotel chains like Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental.

According to corporate PR, the name comes from Capella, Alpha star of the constellation Auriga, the Charioteer. It is a binary star formation, and this is reflected in the double-star logo of the new brand. It is also a lyrical name, associated with different kinds of singing groups, from street corner to sacred .

MazdaCapella The Capella name is also shared with and a mid-sized that Mazda has offered to the Japanese domestic market since 1970.

Auriga Constellation I suppose that a binary star might be a good name for a two-star hotel, of course, and the company info does not mention that the word in ancient Latin means "she-goat". Interestingly, just south of the star is a triangle of smaller, fainter stars called the , who as far as the Capella Hotel group is concerned, are probably not invited!

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The Rise and Fall of the SUV

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JeepIn 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 " blog personalizes the recent decline of the SUV with a eulogy to the Jeep.

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The Yin and Yang of Car Naming and Car Sales

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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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