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The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: What's in a car name?

2016-05-12 11:37

Wayne Batty

A NEW DAWN FOR ROLLS-ROYCE: The new Rolls-Royce Dawn has arrived in SA. TopCar's Wayne Batty asks: 'What comes next? The Rolls-Royce Apparition, Spectre? I’m thinking more along the lines of the Rolls-Royce Silver Tokoloshe.' Image: Wheels24 / Sergio Davids


The TopCar team tests the Ford Mustang, powered by a 2.3 four-cylinder EcoBoost, with a drive through Cape Town and end up having lunch at a famous fast food eatery.

'What’s in a car’s name? Not much it seems, unless it really sucks,' writes TopCar's Wayne Batty as he examines bizarre vehicle names.

Cape Town - It’s true - browsing through Topcar’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly new car guide has mental health benefits, that is, it gets you thinking. So, ‘after much deep and profound brain things inside my head’ in the tradition of Madagascar’s King Julian, I concluded that the people choosing car names should probably lay off the sugar. 

Let me explain . . .

There are cars that simply sound cool, despite having nothing whatsoever to recommend them. Chrysler Crossfire, for instance, sounds accurate and potent like it’s a weapon or something. It isn’t.

What’s in a name?

The converse can also be true. Renault’s Koleos (‘sheath’ in Greek) and Nissan’s Qashqai (a nomadic tribe in Iran) are cases in point. Both fall easily into the good car category, but would you really be happy driving a car that sounds like a colonic ailment, or in the Qashqai’s case, one that no one can pronounce?

A recent tour of Hyundai-Kia’s HQ in Seoul included a powerpoint presentation for Kia’s new Sportage. One of the execs on hand kept mentioning the ‘kwas-kwaai’. 

Read: Top 10 ugliest cars in the world

Now I’m not all that slow on the uptake, but it took more than a few slides to figure out he was referring to the Qashqai and not a lekker new paint process. How many sales has Nissan lost because potential buyers have been happier to mispronounce Tucson instead, I wonder.

GWM Cool Bear to CB150

The Chinese can also be epically bad at labelling their vehicles, and I’m not just talking about gluing boot badges 13 degrees off the horizontal either. Have you heard of the GWM Cool Bear? It’s been rather sensibly renamed CB150 for our market, so people will think you bought a two-way radio or an old Honda motorbike instead. But you won’t get off scot free, as those in the know will still introduce you as Yogi to all their female friends. Sorry to harp on about Great Wall Motors, but it also has a Steed double cab in the stable. In my book, a steed is a horse and riding a horse involves wearing tight pants and wielding a crop. 

So, given that many Steed riders are likely to be in the construction game, it’s only natural to start picturing builders’ butt in a pair of low-cut skinnys. Not for the faint-hearted. On the bright side, it’s called a Wingle in some markets. 


Yet another GWM product worth noting is the Florid, which is exactly what it sounds like – one letter short of a holiday. And now they’ve added an angry version. 

You guessed it, the Great Wall Florid Cross, which would be a brilliant name for a glorious expedition of sorts, but it’s not a good name for a car. Besides, it rhymes with stuff like horrid loss, torrid dross etc. No wonder the Germans opt for alpha-numeric names like X6 and S500 instead.

And just when did this meaningless crossover word become part of motoring jargon anyway? Most so-called crossovers are just jacked up hatchbacks wearing plastic pants like they’re about to wet themselves or something. Crossover should be reserved for cars that can float or sprout wings and fly. 

That’s proper crossing of genres. Perhaps a more appropriate term is portmanteau, which the Collins English Dictionary defines as ‘embodying several uses’. I can see it now: ‘Introducing the future of the sports SUV, the Maserati GranSportmanteau.’ Has a catchy ring to it no? No. Okay, so maybe it’s too French for the Italians.

Hyundai recently unveiled an attractive new Accent, regrettably dubbed Verna. Not a good name for a car either. 

Verna is a good name for an Aunt who stitches doilies together while watching reruns of Antiques Roadshow. Verna also sounds like a tool, in the Eastern Cape, at least.

Of course we could all adopt a similar attitude to Wilbur, the pig from Charlotte’s Web, and simply answer ‘Great name’ upon first introduction. That works fine for cars like the Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed, but in the case of the Zotye Nomad, you’d just be lying. As for the Bentley, I understand the company is planning a special ‘Africa’ version of the Continental Flying Spur. That’s just great. Presumably our local fatcats who are not used to giving a continental, will now be getting one instead.

‘Rolls-Royce Silver Tokoloshe?’

It’s only fitting to end off with the grandest maker of all. No, not Hongqi, the Chinese rip-off artists, but its victim Rolls-Royce. A century of Rolls-Royce models throws up names like Dawn, Cloud, Shadow, Wraith, Spirit, Phantom and Ghost, occasionally enriched with a Silver prefix. Sometimes lofty, mostly paranormal. 

Read: We drive the Rolls-Royce Dawn in SA

What comes next? The Rolls-Royce Apparition, Spectre, Visitant. Nah, I’m thinking more along the lines of the Rolls-Royce Silver Tokoloshe – comes standard with several bricks in the boot.

On second thoughts, a name like that would almost certainly sound the death knell for Rolls-Royce sales in SA. Which kind of proves my point. Probably. 


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