What’s in a name?
Vehicle names have always been an important part of the mobility mystique. Song fodder: “Little Red Corvette” by Prince, “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers and “Red Barchetta” by Rush, to name a few. You could say that a good name sets the stage for a good overall experience and an important emotional connection.
So when it comes to EV names, you’d think the same amount of time and thought would be needed to get this (often the first impression) right.
In 1990, GM President Roger Smith introduced the company’s all-new electric concept car, the Impact. Calling a car the Impact can have a big connotation, but usually tempers immediately go to the most negative. After all, who wants to be in a car called the Impact?
Legend has it that when talk show host Jay Leno made a demo, he desperately wanted to buy one. When told he could only rent the car (which was still called the Impact at the time), he got angry and brushed off the name of the car, saying, “Is that that the crash-and-burn has already been taken?”
The name Impact was changed to EV1 and became a vehicle that early users fell in love with (and would later be commemorated at a mock burial, run over, and documented in a feature film).
On the heels of the destruction of those early EVs, Nissan came out with the LEAF and Chevy came out with the Volt plug-in hybrid (aka extended-range electric vehicle).
As the names go, you could say that LEAF is almost perfect for those jumping on the EV bandwagon at the time. The vast majority of early EV buyers were very interested in making the switch to help the environment, so what better and more organic name than LEAF? The leaves represent the cleaning of the air in a literal and figurative sense. But it is not that simple. If you noticed the all-caps nature of the name, Nissan actually made the LEAF an acronym (and not a great one at that). The letters mean a leading, environmentally friendly and affordable family car.
The Chevy Volt is a good name in that it specifically emphasizes the electric nature of the vehicle. But when in 2017 Chevy came out with the all-electric Bolt, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. Why the hell would they date with such similar names? In fact, in Korean, the names Bolt and Volt are pronounced the same, leading to even more confusion.
Tesla has adopted a seemingly simpler tact in naming its vehicles. The Roadster was just that, a roadster. The Model S stands for sedan; The Model X is a luxury crossover. The Model 3 was intended to be the Model E, but Ford stepped in and pointed out they owned that brand, and the Model Y completed the lineup so Elon Musk could have some fun (placed in the correct order, all production models after the Roadster, spell S3XY, or SEXY for the uninitiated). Alright, extra points for fun.
With Tesla there were additional letters and numbers, such as P85, which would indicate the Performance model with an 85 kilowatt-hour battery, but these were later removed for simplicity. Now you get your Tesla in standard or long range with all-wheel drive, which is much more appealing to the general public. And with an eye to the future, Tesla has made no secret of its interest in a top-to-bottom truck design refresh with the Polarizing Cybertruck. No matter what you think of the Cybertruck’s design, the name is cool as hell.
Many automakers associate their electric vehicle names with proven brands. For example, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Ford F-150 Lightning EV, Chevy Silverado EV, Chevy Bronco EV – well, you get the idea. Maybe the mainstream automakers are hedging their bets and keeping their feet firmly planted in the ICE world while dipping a tow into the EV waters?
For new all-electric names, there are some interesting ones. Kia EV6 is nice and simple (and a compelling EV in my opinion), Hyundai Ioniq 5 is also a winner. According to Hyundai, the name Ioniq is a portmanteau of ion and unique. Then there is the Volkswagen ID. line and ID. part stands for smart design, identity and visionary technologies (this company meeting must have been interesting). And the Volkswagen ID. Buzz – well, with his hippie VW Van roots, you can imagine why they called him the Buzz.
Fisker soon enters the fray with its first offering, the Fisker Ocean, which takes its name from the fact that ocean waste is captured and repurposed into the materials used in the vehicle. The next Fisker PEAR, which stands for Personal Electric Automotive Revolution, is expected to be a vehicle under $30,000. Not much is known about the PEAR, which is supposed to go on sale in 2024, but it’s supposed to be ultra modern and unlike anything on the market. Well, the name of the fruit has worked out pretty well for Apple, so time will tell.
But there’s also the ill-fated 2023 Toyota bZ4X. OK, really, is Toyota even trying with all that EV stuff?
So here is. I wonder if the next multi-platinum hit song will be called “Let’s Flex Toyota bZ4X”. I seriously doubt it.
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