What’s in a name?

Challenger, Supra, GTO, Skyline…all car names that bring back fond memories for gear heads. It’s not the badge that made the model significant, but rather the car itself. But as time marches on it’s the name that sticks with us and not the vehicle. Truth be told, I’ve never even driven any of the previously mentioned automotive deities. I drove a Supra once but it was a non turbo so it doesn’t really count. Yet for most people the names have, attached to it, all kinds of feelings and preconceived ideas regarding performance and beauty due to a phenomenon we refer to as nostalgia. There’s a synonym manufacturers use to describe it; brand equity.

Hey baby...what's YOUR name?

In 2004, when Pontiac said they were bringing back the GTO, muscle car guys got quite excited. The GTO’s from the past were powerhouses and could be made into absurd drag strip monsters. Huge V8’s twisting a rock solid drivetrain and an exhaust note to die for. All of those thoughts were attached to the GTO name andPontiacknew it. The plan was framed using logic rooted from The Underpants Gnomes

I'd like to say a couple words for Pontiac...

1) Introduce a new rear wheel drive muscle car blessed with God’s horsepower gift to man (the LSX engine series) and call it the GTO.

2) ????????

3) Profit!

Though the plan was simple the execution was poor. I love the newer GTO (RIP Pontiac) and have considered owning one. It does everything the old GTO did better in every conceivable way. Plus, it does it in comfort while maintaining a sleeper persona. Unfortunately that was part of the problem; it wasn’t bold enough to wear the badge. The name didn’t fit. To be qualified as a GTO owner you’d need a tiger tattoo, aviator sunglasses, a smoking hot girlfriend, and a reputation that would put Honey Badger to shame. You could drive this new GTO to work and no one would even recognize it as a performance car. This is quite a quandary because the real gear heads think the car hasn’t earned its name and non-car people don’t understand the point of a performance car to begin with. Step 3 ofPontiac’s plan never became a reality and the car was viewed by most as a failure.

Like a BOSS

You see, that’s the danger in bringing back a name associated with a classic. One of two things happens. You either hit a home run or destroy a brand. I see news articles all the time saying that Toyotais bringing back the Supra or Mazda is bringing back the RX-7. The truth is, I don’t want them to bring anything back. I want them to innovate and make new things. Nissan was originally going to attach the Skyline name to the new GTR. They didn’t and I’m glad they didn’t. It’s a totally different machine and is one of the best performing vehicles on the market today. It’s earned the badge it wears and now GTR will be a name as nostalgic as that of the Skyline. Dodge is probably the biggest badge destruction culprit. It seems they’ve gone rouge and are on some sort of a nostalgia killing spree. Charger, Challenger, and later this year….the Dart. Is no name sacred from this massacre? Hey, I have an idea for Dodge; quit making shitty cars and get your act together like Ford recently did. That way you shan’t have to use marketing douchebaggary to get customers to buy. Rant = over….moving on.

The only reason I’d ever expect a name to be brought back is if the new car shares a significant number of parts with its predecessor or it’s an uninterrupted continuation of the model. The Mustang never went anywhere and has evolved over many years so it falls into the “uninterrupted continuation of a model” category. The Camaro had a brief hiatus and recently came back for revenge. Though it’s not an uninterrupted continuation of the model, it shares the same basic engine and drive train parts so I think it’s appropriate to give it the same name.

I’m afraid I’ve lost my train of thought here. The flight attendants have come by with the drink cart and multi-tasking is too much for my single task oriented male brain. Cranberry Apple please….oh wait, I remember where we were; car names, right.

So think about this, you have a favorite movie that was made many moons ago. Now let’s say that years down the road this movie is remade again, same story line but better special effects. Sounds like a good deal. I bet Obama would even give it his ‘Not Bad’ face. But now imagine the movie was remade with a totally different story line. The original movie was about Agent 007 saving the world and punching snow leopards in the face but this new film is about 4 middle aged cougars inNew York looking for a place to die (Robert: Your Welcome). Plus, the lead actress has gone from a smoking hot brunette to having a face like Sara Jessica Parker, or worse yet…IS Sara Jessica Parker. You’d hate them for stealing 2 hours of your life by making a crappy movie and also for ruining the fond memories you had of the original.

So why would we make the same mistake with cars? Unfortunately, I think marketing’s pursuit of step 3 (profit) leads us down this road. But then again, brand equity is a very strong phenomenon. I’ve witnessed people looking for a new car who shan’t consider a particular brand of vehicle even if they sell a car that would be better for them. I have a marketing degree from Texas Christian University so I must play devils advocate here. If I was in their shoes and thought slapping the name Chevelle on a new vehicle would boost sales by 5% I would have to do it. They have sales numbers they have to meet and children to feed. In the end it may be a necessary evil but it’s certainly not one I have to like.

8 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Cory Sell says:

    I’ll throw in a little tid-bit..

    The Dodge dart of the old was a cookie-cutter town-car. The only performance it ever saw was a slew of smaller-than-average, at the time, V8 motors. The standard equipment was a 115 BHP slant-six.

    Now, you are still bringing back a car from the old days, known as the good days to some, into this day and age. But there is a very real reason behind bringing back the name.

    Ask pretty much anyone that was old enough back in the 60s/70s and even early 80s. 98% of them had pleasant experiences with the Dodge Dart. Not from a performance standpoint, but a lot of families owned one. Which then when people think of it, brings back warm memories of a simpler time.

    They did their marketing research. When you mention Mustang, you have people from that era that hated it for whatever reason. When you say Dodge Dart, for those who were around back then, you think of that time when your neighbor took you and your friends for ice cream after a game of stickball in the street.

    I will say this. A name can only take you so far. The execution of building the car has to complete the race.

  2. Greg LaPointe says:

    You could also say that one resurrected car name from the grave was the Honda S2000. Honda brought back the two seater roadster from the 1960s but how many people owned a Honda S500, S600 or S800 or even knew about them for that matter. IMO the Honda S2000 is the quintessential sports car right next to the Mazda Miata. Yes the styling is much more modern and it’s got a lot more power but the basic structure of what that car was in the 60′s was carried through to present day and made that car a huge success IMO.

    My .02

  3. Good points by both. And thanks for the Honda history Greg. I had no idea that was a resurrection. But now that brings up a second point though. They brought back a name that few people would recognize. Bad idea or no?

  4. I’m going to have a follow up to this done and put up for tomorrow…something I’ve been wanting to do for a bit anyways. See, what you really, really have to remember about those classic cars your naming your knew fancy cars after were horrible cars. The good old days sucked.

  5. SublimeZ says:

    I drive the “new style” GTO. I love it, many don’t. I feel my car has all the intent of the original and I make no apologies for it. Line up next to me, we’ll see if it’s named wrong ;)

  6. I agree. I think it’s freakin PERFECT…but most of the old chaps would think otherwise. Marketing also would call it a failure. Hopefully I could pick one up for cheap!

  7. SublimeZ says:

    Low mileage 06′s are going for under $20k

  8. Angel Marin says:

    I didnt kniw that the s2000 was originally a car from the 60′s, noice! Learned something new today!

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