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Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986.

Hundreds of car companies have gone out of business, most in the earliest days of automobiles. Did you know the beer company Anheuser-Busch once built a car? Or that a company named Apple Automobile built a car in 1917? Alcoa, the aluminum company built a car, as did Beechcraft the airplane manufacturer, Carhartt the clothing manufacturer, Deere the tractor company, and the Yellow Cab Company. General-Electric, Gillette, Greyhound, Hertz, Hoover, Maytag, Pan-American, Remington, all built cars, as did Sears, who went them all one better by building and selling prefab houses, too.

Many of the names of now-defunct auto manufacturers were quite colorful. 

Would you have bought a Baby Moose? How about a Ben-Hur, Bobbi-Car, Bugmobile, Duck, Dyke, Gaslight, Gyroscope, Junior R, Kent’s Pacemaker, Lad’s Car, LuLu, or Motor Bob? Would you have bought a Nu-Klea, Postal, Pungs Finch, or Red Bug? How about a Seven Little Buffaloes, Silent Sioux, Sphinx, or Steel Swallow?

While reading about this subject, I got to thinking about automotive brand names and noticed how many end in vowels.

Off the top of my head, I counted Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Dodge, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Isuzu, Kia, Lamborghini, Maserati, Mazda, Miata, Mitsubishi, Oldsmobile, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Subaru, Toyota, Volvo. 

Many model names end in vowels, too.

Camaro, Corolla, Corvette, Jetta, Maxima, Altima, Supra, Daytona, Optima, Sonata, Versa, Fiesta, Edge, Escape, and lots more.

So I went looking for a method in the madness.

I started with German cars because Germany is an engineering society renowned for their dedication to precision and order. This national ethos is built upon an education system that emphasizes engineering fundamentals, hands-on apprenticeships, and practical experiences.

High-end German cars avoid names altogether.

BMW uses a numerical naming convention. At one time they had the 3-, 5-, and 7-series. As they added new layers of model families, they inserted them above, below, and between, until they used every number from 1 to 8. As the numbers increased, so did the sizes of the cars and their cost. When do you think nines will show up? They’ll go on the top of the cake, won’t they?

Mercedes uses only letters to designate classes of coupes, convertibles, sedans, and station wagons. They use a size and cost ladder approach, too: A-Class, C-Class, E-Class, on the way to the top-of-the-line S-Class, but it doesn’t telegraph a natural hierarchy like BMW’s numbers do. Mercedes uses names starting with GL for their SUVs (GL-A, -B, -C, and -E). Still no word on what happened to D.

Audi uses both letters and numbers. Their A series includes sedans, coupes, and convertibles and goes from A1 to A8. Their Q series designates SUVs, and goes from the Q2 to the Q8. Again the increases in numbers telegraphs increases in size, performance, luxuriousness, and price.

Volkswagen, the less-expensive German automaker, has no apparent naming scheme. Jetta, Golf, Passat, Atlas, Tiguan, Arteon, Taos, and ID.4 seem to have nothing in common. 

Ford’s names are all over the place.

They use the names Fusion and the Mustang for cars. Trucks go by Ranger, Transit, and F-150, the best selling Ford of all time. For a long time Ford used the names Explorer and Expedition for their SUVs until adding the Escape and Edge.

Ford’s newest name is the Bronco, except the name isn’t new at all. They revived it this year after cancelling the product line 44 years ago.

In 1950, Chevrolet used only two names and two numbers for the 14 different cars they sold: Fleetline and Styleline. 

Underneath both were the De Luxe Series 2100 and the Special Series 1500. Everyone knows deluxe is better than special. The levels of quality and presumably higher costs indicated by De Luxe are nicely reinforced by the bigger number. The finer distinctions were added not in code, but in brief, descriptive phrases. So there would be Fleetline Special 4-Door Sedan, a Styleline De Luxe 2-Door Sedan, and so on. The model numbers were for dealer reference only.

In the 1960s, Chevrolet named most of their cars starting with the letter C, for obvious reasons: Corvette, Camaro, Corvair, Chevelle, Chevette, Cavalier, Celebrity, Citation, Chevy II, Caprice, Cruze. Chevrolet painted themselves into a corner when they said every name has to start with a C, didn’t they? No one knows what Impala, Malibu, and Spark have in common. SUVs and trucks are the Suburban, Blazer, Trax, Equinox, Traverse, Tahoe, Silverado, and Colorado, the last three playing with a Western theme.

Honda is an outlier. 

Even with a brand name that ends in A, none of Honda’s model names do: Accord, Civic, Insight, Passport, Pilot, CR-V. Their uptown cousin Acura may have a name that starts and ends with an A, but has fallen in love with the letter X and their lineup is hard to understand: ILX, TLX, RDX, MDX, AND NSX, and who knows what any of those things mean?

Hyundai can’t make up their mind and have no naming convention at all. 

All their sedans have names. Some end in vowels (Elantra, Sonata) and some don’t (Accent and Veloster). SUV names are also a mixed bag, some ending in vowels (Venue, Kona, Santa Fe) and others with consonants (Tucson, Santa Cruz). Notice how three of those names use a Desert Southwest theme, the emergence of a trend running across manufacturers.

Toyota doesn’t follow a pattern, either. 

They were among the first to use names ending in A, such as Celica, Cressida, and Supra (these synthetic names were chosen to appeal to English-speaking U.S. markets) but later added the Camry, Avalon and Prius. Their truck names end in A (Tacoma and Tundra). Two of their SUVs end in A (Venza and Sequoia), but the others don’t. Land Cruiser and Highlander are conventional sorts of names while RAV4 and 4Runner are number-letter mashups.

Nissan was called Datsun in the U.S. until 1982.

For their sedans, Nissan pretty much went all in on names ending in A (Sentra, Altima, Maxima, and Versa), but opted for LEAF for their electric car. Four of their SUVs end in vowels (Rogue, Murano, Armada, and Ariya) but two don’t: Pathfinder and Kicks.

In 1958, Nissan President Katsuji Kawamata attended the Broadway musical My Fair Lady.

He chose the name Fairlady for a new sports car built for the U.S. market because he felt it would make people think of the beauty of the music and of Julie Andrews, the leading lady. Evocative names for cars have long been a part of traditional Japanese culture, so it made sense to him. Americans had no such cultural associations (a few dollars worth of research and he could have learned this) and the car sold poorly until Nissan changed the name to the Datsun 1600.

What will be next? Will we see more car names ending in A? 

Seeing a Charisma, Nirvana, Napa, Mesa, Puma, Mica, Samba, or Rumba some day wouldn’t surprise me, while a Helluva would. We probably won’t see too many food names like Pizza, Okra, or Granola; Feta, Focaccia, or Moussaka; Arugula, Paprika, or Bologna (how would we pronounce it?); Vodka, Tequila, or Margarita (Jimmy Buffet’s Parrothead Motors).

The field of medical names is wide-open, and includes Tibia, Fibula, Trachea, Glaucoma, Sciatica, Malaria, Cholera, Insomnia, Eczema, Seborrhea, Diarrhea, and Enema. For those who like to double-dip, there is plenty of opportunity to use A as a first and last letter, too. How about the Aorta, Anemia, Anorexia, Apnea, and Asthma?

You decide – correlation or causation?

Counting only U.S. manufacturers during my lifetime, American Motors, Avanti, Checker, Continental, Crosley, DeSoto (who had an Adventurer model but for some reason no Explorer), DeLorean (Doc Brown’s time machine in Back to the Future), Edsel, Frazer-Nash, Henry J, Hudson, Imperial, International Harvester, Kaiser, Mercury, Nash, Oldsmobile, Packard, Pontiac, Plymouth, Rambler, Saturn, Studebaker, Tucker, and Willys all went belly up. Notice most of those brand names ended with a consonant, and none ended with an A.

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