By on August 8, 2011

When should a redesigned car get a new name? Whenever the old one wasn’t a success? Or virtually never? Can car companies count on the excellence of a new car to reverse whatever damage was done to the public perception of the model name in the past?

GM, as Paul Niedermeyer noted a few years ago, has a tendency to give a redesigned car a new name when the old one fared poorly in public perception. Which has been every time with its compact cars: Corvair, Vega, Monza, Cavalier, Cobalt, Cruze. Most recently, GM opted to abandon the Aveo name in North America in favor of “Sonic.”

Ford started to replace the names of many of its cars a few years ago. Not because the cars hadn’t sold well, but because someone had the brilliant idea that all Ford car names should start with the letter F. The Windstar became the Freestar, partly in an attempt to escape the minivan’s bad reputation. And there was also a Freestyle crossover. My wife wondered if they might replace “Thunderbird” with “Freebird.” After all, there was already a song to serve as the car’s theme. Then new CEO Alan Mulally, an outsider with virtually no knowledge of the auto industry, decreed that the “F” fixation was stupid. (Though for some reason he let the even more confusing MK_ mess continue at Lincoln.) Despite the damage Ford had done to the old names, they retained broad recognition by car buyers and thus equity. The Taurus name, after being reduced to fleet queen status, was returned to Ford’s current large sedan, from which it progressed to the current semi-premium car. And Ford’s redesigned compact remains a Focus despite a huge upgrade in both its specification and price.

I’ve always possessed a visceral dislike for GM’s willingness to flit from nameplate to nameplate. But this is because (apparently unlike GM) I refuse to admit defeat and give up. I also don’t like to throw anything away (luckily I have a wife to counterbalance the latter). But these reasons aren’t rational. Perhaps giving up on a nameplate when a model has failed in public perception and starting over with a new one is the smart thing to do?

Thanks to Ford, we have an answer. Until recently, Dearborn didn’t think it could sell a Euro-spec car at profitable prices in the U.S. So while Europe received better and better C-segment cars, the North American Focus soldiered on with minimal updates, and with even these focused on taking cost out of the car more often than they improved it. Then Mulally decreed that Ford would make and sell the same cars in Europe and North America. So the next Focus (a 2012 model which arrived earlier this year) would have to command much higher prices from American car buyers. A challenge in itself, retaining the Focus name for the new car should have made this even more difficult. Americans had learned to think of the Focus as a cheap car for people who couldn’t afford a better one, right? Would those seeking a premium small car even consider one with this tarnished nameplate attached?

As much as I don’t believe it replacing nameplates, I don’t think I’d have made this bet. But Ford did, and they’ve won. The Focus’s average transaction price year-to-date in 2010 was $15,424. This year, despite a few months with the old model, it’s $20,684. Despite this massive jump in the car’s price, in percentage the largest I’m aware of, the cars have been in short supply. They’ve been attracting an entirely different group of buyers, people who could afford a larger car or any direct competitor, but who are choosing the Focus because they like it the best, not because of “the deal.” Six percent of those sold are even the Titanium trim, which can list for over $27,000.

Conversely, look at GM’s experience. Many of the new cars gifted with new nameplates were mediocre, so it’s not clear how blame for lackluster sales should be apportioned. The Cobalt and G6 were significantly better than the Cavalier and Grand Am, but perhaps not good enough to sell without heavy incentives even if the old names with their broader public awareness had been retained. But what about the G8? Might it have sold better, and perhaps saved Pontiac in the process, if it had been labeled a Bonneville or Grand Prix? One possible exception: the Cadillac CTS, though it likely would have done just as well if the Catera nameplate had been retained. Then there’s the height of stupidity: scrapping a strong nameplate. Acura replaced “Integra” and “Legend” with “RSX” and “RL.” Today the former is gone and the latter might as well be.

Judging from the success of the 2012 Ford Focus, when the car is good people quickly forget any negative associations attached to a nameplate by the previous generation. On the other hand, GM has rarely if ever benefited from scrapping old nameplates in favor of new ones. The upcoming Chevrolet Sonic might well succeed—initial media reports have been positive—but this will be despite rather than because of its new name.

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143 Comments on “What’s In A Name?...”


  • avatar

    A fascinating question… “Name And Form” is one of my all-time favorite TTAC pieces. Well worth another read since we’re revisiting the topic.

    I think GM had a choice of whether to go with Aveo or find something new… and from static impressions, I think the changes are dramatic enough to warrant the re-name. Ford had less of a choice with the Focus, IMO. It looks like a Focus and the name is successful enough in Europe to warrant keeping it… luckily the US Focus wasn’t so horrible as to make the nameplate a laughingstock, ala Aveo and Sebring.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Aveo was a “new” name so I saw no problem with torpedoing it. However the classic names that have more recognition should be stuck with. LeSabre, Park Avenue, Malibu, Impala, ect… keep those around. I was glad that GM didn’t kill the Malibu name when they replaced the “square” version with the current one.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    I think the stigma of a bad name falls on the entire brand, not the individual product. Nobody says “I had a really crappy Aveo, I’ll never buy another Aveo.” Nope, they say “I’ll nevery buy another Chevy (or GM).”

    A lot of people don’t really pay too close attention to vehicles until it’s time to buy a new one. How many people just re-up into a new Accord or Camry every 3-5 years? I know several people that do just that not even considering the thought of shopping around. It works for them, and changing a name plate will confuse some of your most uninformed, read, profitable customers out there.

  • avatar
    DDayJ

    I always look at the new Buick LaCrosse and think it should have been named LeSabre. What’s even worse is that the Regal, which was replaced by the LaCrosse, has come back to further confuse buyers. Then again I could never tell much difference between the FWD C body Electra/Park Ave, and the H body LeSabre, so maybe GM is being consistent in one way.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    If you take a car, and slap the word ‘Escort’ on it, you’ll know what you’ll be getting. Making the branding simple makes it easier on the sales side. The effort lost in re-educating consumers could have gone into converting sales.

    Part of me also thinks that GM and Chrysler’s predilection to name hopping also has something to do with management culture. The decision to rebrand probably has something to do with internal turf-building, with the new guy trying to demarcate as much as possible from the old guy.

    Maybe it’s too much to look into, but perhaps the car companies from the most socially cohesive countries tend to have the most consistent naming schemes. The Japanese, Germans and Scandinavians certainly have a more ‘collective’ business culture… the U.S. is pretty much an exception on the individuality/collective spectrum.

  • avatar
    morbo

    Long live the Chevy Lumina / Lumina APV / Venture / Uplander – Pontiac Montana – ldsmobilie Siloutte – Saturn relay – Buick Terraza / GL8.

    Any other contenders for most name changed platform?

    • 0 avatar
      mazder3

      You forgot a couple there, morbo:
      Pontiac Trans Sport/SV6

      Only thing that I think comes close is the Chevrolet Trailblazer-GMC Envoy-Oldsmobile Bravada-Buick Rainier-Saab 9-7x-Isuzu Ascender.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        OK, bonus question for today’s test, students. Can anyone name EVERY version of the GM W-platform from it’s birth to the present day?

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        OK, big breath. Chevy Lumina/Lumina Coupe/Monte Carlo/Impala/Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme/Cutlass Supreme Coupe/Intrigue/Buick Regal/Regal Coupe/Century/LaCrosse/Pontiac Grand Prix/Grand Prix Coupe

        Whoof. I think that’s all of them. The coupes should have come first. I hope that’s ok. Thank You, Educator Dan!

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        And here are all the engines offered over the decades. Iron Duke, Quad 4, GM 60 degree V6 family, Shortstar V6, High Value V6, High Feature V6, Buick 3800V6, and the LS4 V8.

      • 0 avatar
        wagonsonly

        How about the Geo Metro/Chevy Metro/Chevy Sprint (Canada)/Geo SprintMetro/Subaru Justy (European version after the “real” one went out in ’94)/Suzuki Swift/Suzuki Cultus(Japan)/Holden Barina (Australia/NZ)/Pontiac Firefly (Canada)? Nine nameplates, all on essentially the same car.

      • 0 avatar
        tikki50

        you forgot the most important GM vehicle, the Aztek, LOL

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

        lol, then there was the extended versions of most of those and the Envoy XUV-retractable roof (that always broke) to go with it.

        Trailblazer
        TB EXT
        TB SS
        Envoy
        Envoy XL
        Envoy XUV
        Saab 9-7x
        Isuzu Ascender
        Ascender XL
        Buick Rainier
        Olds Bravada

        Now it’s the Lambda clones which are thankfully,less.

    • 0 avatar
      FuzzyPlushroom

      All of these and the Trans Sport/SV6 (as my fellow New Hampshirite pointed out) plus the European-market Opel/Vauxhall Sintra.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Ford could get away with moving the Focus name up-market because the original was a decent enough car for the money, they’ve earned a bit of cred for being the last man standing(as opposed to propped up) of the Big 3, and their recent vehicles and tech have been pretty good.

    The Aveo is ranked last in every comparison I’ve seen, and it’s a lousy name to boot. I don’t even know how to pronounce it. Ah-veeeee-oh? Ay-vee-oh? Ah-vay-oh? Good riddance.

  • avatar

    I’m still angry at Chrysler for changing the “Sebring” to the “200” when the “200” was a whole nother’ car concept that was probably so awesome it would have easily put Chrysler back on the map. Not saying the Charger and 300 haven’t already put them on the map – but, I was expecting so much more for a Chrysler small car. I think they are well overdue for a G35/Genesis Coupe competitor.

    • 0 avatar
      toxicroach

      Maybe I’m an asshole, but “I was expecting so much more for a Chrysler small car” pretty much puts you in on the lunatic fringe.

      This is actually a good example of when it’s time to change names— when the model sends shivers down the spines of car renters everywhere, it’s time to let the name die and move on.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Maybe changing the name to Alfa Romeo would have worked.

      • 0 avatar

        i know people who have Sebrings and I don’t know a single one who hates their car. I know people with 200’s and I don’t know a single person who hates their car. It’s a car for people who can’t afford better cars – yes – but, they still offer their buyers something they don’t get by buying an import.

        I’ve owned TWO Chrysler 300’s and I’m preparing to buy the 2012 SRT8. I LOVE THE COMPANY. If you don’t – that’s yo buidness.

      • 0 avatar

        “…they still offer their buyers something they don’t get by buying an import.”

        Um… what, exactly? An uneducated sense of entitlement, based solely on jingoism? (Nevermind how you espouse the virtues of a Canadian import supported by an Italian company.)

        There is nothing un-American about buying the best and highest-quality product available at your individual price point. I don’t think anyone but the most devoted fanboiz really believe any of those products carry the Fiasler badge…

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        My insurance co put me in a sebring after an accident. That car was so unpleasant I returned it and took a stripped-down Korean subcompact in its place. That car was a piece of ####, yet still superior to the sebring in every way.

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      This comment is not crazy.

      I owned a 99 Dodge Stratus. It was definitely a competitive car. And guess what? The interior was nicer than 90% of small and midsize cars sold today.

      • 0 avatar

        The original JAs were Chrysler’s last gasp at respectability IMHO, and about as close as the company ever got to matching the “imports” so derided by certain people.

        They went downhill immediately after — the next generation (the first to wear the “Sebring” badge on the full line) was gawdawful.

      • 0 avatar

        A few more thoughts on the JAs. My grandfather purchased one of the first Cirrus sedans in Omaha, a 1995 LX. Green on gray, with gaudy plastichrome wheelcovers. I drove it around that summer while visiting from NM.

        The 2.5L Mitsu V6 was by far the weakest link in the entire vehicle, overshadowing even the “revised” Ultradrive transmission. The interior plastics were straight from Fisher-Price, not even close to the quality of the ’90 Accord I’d learned to drive on… yet even with these foibles, the Cirrus still exuded intelligent design. I recall reading Motor Trend’s effusive praise of the preproduction models… and thinking it was largely spot-on after driving the car. It was clear how thoroughly Chrysler sweated the details with the cloud cars, even more so than with the LHs.

        Over at C&D, one of the columnists (Patrick Bedard, I think) wrote an entire op-ed about seeing new JAs on an auto transporter, and marveling how tightly the undercarriage mechanicals were packed together to reduce airflow disturbance.

        Honda and Toyota had done these things for years, of course, yet it was so new to Chrysler (and the domestics at large – remember, over at the local Chevy store the horrid second-generation Lumina had just been introduced) and, above all, seemed to have been done so well. Which makes it all the more frustrating how much Chrysler dropped the ball with the 2001 Stratus and Sebring sedans, and with every single one of its vehicles since.

  • avatar
    relton

    Changing names is the witness protection program theory of marketing. In other words, if we change the name of the warmed over Windstar to Freestar, no one will remember what a piece of crap the Windstar was. Too bad for GM and others that people still remember.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    I think that timing has more to do with the financial successes of the Focus than branding. Bringing out a much improved C segment model just as gas prices and the economy are pushing many shoppers down market let Ford hit a previously unknown sweet spot in the US auto market, the well crafted compact car. I think that this will be proven if Cruze sales keep up. It also helps Ford that at least some portion of the buyers have been put off of the major competition, Toyota due to UA/quality issues and GM/Chrysler due to bankruptcy issues.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I think cars should be named after the stuff you can’t afford because you bought the car.

    Ford Masters Degree
    Buick Booblift
    Kia Child Support
    Cadillac Double Wide
    Mercedes Mistress
    BMW Penile Implant
    Chevrolet Tank O Gas
    Lincoln Surgery

    So, if you go to a Honda dealership, you can choose between the Honda College Fund, the Honda Sex Change, and top of the line, Honda Miami Beach Condo.

  • avatar
    dwford

    GM has had success in keeping the same name. Look at the Malibu. Brough back in 1997? on a mediocre car, then moved to another mediocre car, finally gets put on a decent design and sales take off. Same with the LaCrosse.

    At Nissan look at the Altima. The 2nd generation was a boring rehash of the 1st gen, and sales suffered. Then the 2001 bodystyle came out and sales took off.

    The product is everything. At least with an existing nameplate, you aren’t starting from scratch with name recognition.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The Altima used to be called the Stanza, which was one of the first US market Nissans. Prior to that, they were called Datsuns and had any number of naming conventions. The previous Stanza was sold as the Datsun 510 here, a name brought back due to nostalgia for an earlier, smaller, and higher technical spec car. The first US Stanza was a pretty big success, but it stuck around too long. The 2nd Stanza was a boxy bore that Nissan wanted us to forget about when they used the Altima name for the next Stanza.

      Maybe Nissan is finally sticking with names because they know as well as anyone that constantly renaming everything is a waste of time. On the other hand, they managed to pick up the allure of Japanese car quality while making hit and miss cars for decades.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        If you take that one step further, the first year Altima had a tiny sticker on the trunklid that said Stanza. Clear plastic with white letters. Motor Trend indicated that the car carried the same name for insurance reasons – the Stanza had a track record – or so they said. The Altima was a vast improvement over the Stanza, a horrid car by almost any metric…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Most badges don’t carry very strong recognition. The only ones that do, such as Accord, Civic, Corolla or Mustang, have been around for a long time. Those can be cultivated without every model that carried the badge having been perfect.

    For the most part, the name changes just create confusion. They should be avoided unless the badge was so uniquely and disastrously bad (Pinto, Vega, etc.) that they need to be burned and ditched.

    Ford made the right move with the Focus name. With the previous models, most people probably didn’t particularly know what it was. they just knew that there was a company called Ford that built a small car that wasn’t worth writing home about, but there was little negative emotion attached it.

    Now that Ford does have a small car that may be worthy of some attention, more consumers be attracted to it because (a) the car itself seems to be good and (b) the Ford badge is improving, which gives other products such as this one more credibility. That’s smart business.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    The Taurus name was decimated despite the first gen problems being cured eventually. It should not be resurrected but it was. OTOH what would they call it? Ford 500 didn’t go over well.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Some suggested “Galaxie.”

      For the Flex, I would have gone with either “Fairlane,” or “Country Squire.”

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Taurus was resurrected because the CEO realized (and had the polls to prove it) that the name still had high recognition and no particular negative connotation among the public. I saw some polling info a few years back that indicated that a majority of the public still thought Buick built a car called the Park Avenue (dead in 2005). So why not call the Lucerne either Park Avenue or Electra?

      • 0 avatar

        Good one with the Lucerne. It probably would have sold better if they’d kept it a Park Avenue, or even an Electra.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        A friend of mine who is a pretty serious car enthusiast, as opposed to an industry watcher, was surprised when I told him Buick still existed a few weeks ago. Just because people may have thought the Park Avenue was still in existence, it doesn’t support the idea that they found the Park Avenue’s status to be of any interest.

      • 0 avatar
        vbofw

        Anybody else google “Lucerne” after reading these comments to find out what it is?

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        I don’t know what it is anywhere else, but down here in Texas, “Lucerne” is a brand of milk.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Anybody else google “Lucerne” after reading these comments to find out what it is?

        A little place in Switzerland (says the American of Swiss ancestory), a milk sold at Safeway (the only brand my lady will drink – she’s weird about that), and a cheap way to get a Cadillac DTS with Buick badges. If you like the DTS but fear the Northstar, you could always get a Buick Lucerne with the 3.9V6.

        Hey I’m friends with my local Buick dealer and I like “old man’s” cars.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        +1 Dan

        Bingo on three counts ;)

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        “Lucerne? I sent the band to Locarno!”

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The 500 didn’t go over well for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with the name. It went the wrong way for the times, it was overly plain looking and weak in the power dept. Overall just way to practical when the market was going impractical.

      In addition to the goodwill that the Taurus still had Mullaly has a special connection to the original. Boeing and Ford engineers and management have be sharing “secrets” for many years. Mullaly was one who got the full 99 cent tour of the then Taurus engineering and manufacturing facilities. He was quite impressed and touted many of the principals he learned throughout the engineering and upper management.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    I’ve been saying this since forever. Branding needs to stay consistent. Honda has been selling Civics and Accords since the seventies, Chevy has been selling Corvettes for longer. Changing the name once might generate some interest, but changing it every time there’s a refresh gives the customer the impression that the company isn’t really serious about the product. Which, for GM and their small cars, they really never were.

    edit: By the way, while it’s obvious that Ford’s “F” thing was stupid, what were they planning on renaming the Mustang?

    • 0 avatar

      The Mustang was going to be an exception. Even the people behind the “F” thing weren’t stupid enough to change that.

      You made a point I wanted to, but didn’t. Changing the names lends the impression that the company readily writes off previous products, isn’t going to take responsibility for them, and could easily do the same with the new car.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      Then there was the “E” thing for all their SUV’s

      Escape
      Explorer
      Expedition
      Excursion
      Edge

      I recall Cadillac actually swiped the trademark for the name “Escalade” to throw Ford off course, but I may be wrong.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Why did they want to get rid of “Bronco”, anyway? It can’t have been the OJ car chase thing, or they wouldn’t have named the replacement “Escape”.

  • avatar
    vermontwalton

    Mustang Filly anyone?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Impala must remain Impala.
    Malibu must remain Malibu.
    Camaro, Corvette, yes, yes.
    Taurus must be renamed Galaxie 500. Period.
    Fusion? Should be Taurus, it’s the same size, after all.
    Mustang? Of course.
    For Chrysler? Fury should be resurrected somehow.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      When did Impala pick up any significance? It used to just be a trim level, one that was eventually superceded at the top by Caprice, and then by Caprice Classic. Previously, Bel Air was the top trim level. I just don’t see what is special about the Impala name.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        I would love if Chevy went back to that trim level scheme (but only for the Impala.) Fleet models – Bel Air or 510, basic version sold to the buying public – Impala, top dog (former LTZ) Caprice. Or some version of that scheme.

      • 0 avatar

        Anyone who doesn’t have an unnatural attachment to the Impala badge would admit the current model car is most deserving of “Biscayne.”

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        I think “Classic” would be more appropriate, Rob. That’s Chevy’s go-to name for purpose-built rental cars, right?

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        Impala has been around a long time. That’s the significance. Washington rode to his first inauguration in an Impala.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        I have a serious attachment to the Impala badge and what it used to mean and I do not apologize for it. No, I’m not fooled by the current models since 2000. Even though I detailed mine by having custom side scripts made in mirror chrome, and added a Chevrolet script to the trunk lid, compared to Impalas my family and I owned, at best, mine equals a Bel-Air. The 2006 – current looks more “Impala” than mine, but I can live with that – I have to, as my dream of a sports coupe or sports sedan (you know what those terms imply) may never return. I would like to see a “proper” Impala worthy of the name, which means three tail lights and a nicely-trimmed appearance inside and out. I can dream just the same.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        @CJinSD:

        When did the name “Impala” pick up significance? It might be because in the late Sixties, one out of every nine cars sold in the US was an Impala. At its peak, the Impala had 15% of the US car market by itself. That’s more than the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have now combined.

    • 0 avatar
      abgwin

      I’d love a Fury myself, but only with ‘Plymouth’ in front of it. So that’s not going to happen.
      There are rumors of a ‘Cuda return, but I feel the same way about that. It would be like a Dodge New Yorker or Chrysler Dart. Just wrong.
      Oddly, a Dodge Hornet doesn’t bother me at all, nor would a Dodge Matador.

      • 0 avatar
        SherbornSean

        ‘Classic’ as the name for purpose-built rentals would just sow confusion. Impala Classic, Cruze Classic, Camaro Classic, Equinoz classic, where does it end?

    • 0 avatar
      SP

      The Impala is a good name, which, in my opinion, is let down by the current car. It’s not a bad car. It’s just thoroughly bland.

      The Malibu? Ha. The car that came out in 1997 was even blander than the current Impala, or the Lumina. There is no connection to the Chevelle Malibu, or even the place name itself. Doesn’t Malibu bring up images of a party beach, where you might find Jimmy Buffett? The current car, thankfully, is much better than the 1997 car. But it has no party atmosphere about it.

      If the Malibu’s name changed, it would not hurt sales one bit. I don’t even think I have heard the name “Chevy Malibu” spoken in public. Only on automotive websites and in automotive magazines.

      What would be a better name for it? I don’t know. The Chevy?

  • avatar
    SilverHawk

    I no longer have a strong opinion on this subject, as I think it varies with the situation. However, my contacts with Buick/Pontiac/GMC dealers have provided me with some angry stories about the alfa-numeric names used at Pontiac near the end. Many salesmen said it speeded the demise of the brand. They also will not soon forgive the marketing people who took away the LeSabre name when it was the best selling vehicle in it’s class. Really, a near luxury brand like Buick can continue using it’s heritage names effectively, if the styling is properly updated for each new generation. The names don’t hurt sales, but poor styling decisions will do it every time.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    The car makes the name. Not the other way around. Cindy Crawford would still float my boat if her name was Bertha McBigbut.

  • avatar
    detlump

    Names are a tricky thing. GM has so many good names. Unfortunately they have also tarnished some of those names with poor product.

    Aveo for example has no meaning with the buying public, it sounds like a name a foreign company thought would sound good in English. Sonic is OK, it does sort of flow “Chevy Sonic” though there was the dust up recently in the tubes about whether Chevy should be used officially.

    Buick should have reused some names. Regal is a solid name. LaCrosse has issues in Quebec for a dual meaning, why not use Electra? Seniors remember the old ones, but may scoff at the new model as not a true one.

    The G Pontiac naming system was the final nail in Pontiac’s coffin. Who came up with it? They should lose their golden parachute. No one aspires to own a G anything. The Euros can get away with it because they have been doing it for decades and the buyers are generally smart enough to understand the system which does usually have a meaning (engine size, etc). Grand Ams sold like crazy only a few years before despite looking hideous. The G6 actually looked good but maybe too plain.

  • avatar

    I keep hearing hints that GM is planning to bring back the old Cadillac model names in a few years (or at least that certain senior execs are enamored of the idea, which means that like the Omega platform it’ll probably happen, maybe at the same time). It will be very interesting to see how that plays out, if and when. My sense, in keeping with MK’s thinking here, is that if the cars are good enough, old laughingstock names like DeVille and Fleetwood and Eldorado will work just fine, just as Taurus has worked out well for Ford — but the cars had better be good enough.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      DeVille and Eldorado might be okay. Fleetwood is pushing it. The last of the RWD D-bodies were too big of a cartoonish joke, with plastic chrome that peeled and delaminated in the best climate controlled garages. And anyone who says Brougham within GM should be walked out by security.

      • 0 avatar

        But the late ’50s Broughams were amazing super-high-end cars. I bet that even that name could be rehabilitated given a sufficiently amazing product to hang it on.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        Not only were they super high-end cars, they were, adjusted for inflation, the most expensive cars ever produced in America. When royalty, Hollywood and otherwise, is driving an Eldorado Brougham, that is precisely the type of image Cadillac needs TODAY. Good luck…

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

        That would be very strange since Government Motors already has incorporated the original names in their current acronym “alphabet soup”.

        STS – Seville Touring Sedan
        DTS – Deville Touring Sedan
        CTS – Catera Touring Sedan (or Cimarron lol but that one is going to Buick under the new Verano AKA “Cimerano”

        ATS – Allante Touring sedan?

        If anything, I’m surprised they didn’t switch the upcoming XTS to “BTS” for Brougham Touring sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        300zx_guy

        how about “Sedan deVille Brougham d’Elegance”?

  • avatar

    Is no one else as shocked as I am that Ford has successfully managed to move the Focus over $5,000 upmarket, and well above Honda and Toyota? This was a huge gamble.

    To give GM some credit, the Cruze has also been selling very well despite being priced roughly as high as the Focus. I suspect they aren’t selling as many of the $24,000+ cars as Ford is, though.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      The only thing that shocks me is that they keep Lincoln around when the Titanium-level Fords are as well equipped and as expensive and are based on the same cars and look pretty much the same as the Lincolns.

      It’s like they knew that Mercury and Lincoln were just high trim levels for Ford, but then they gave Ford those high trim levels as well. And people are buying them! The existence of Lexus and Acura convinced me that Americans would only buy an expensive car if it came with a nameplate that doesn’t also go on cheap cars, I guess that’s changing.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Why be shocked? The American market is always receptive of new American cars that are supposed to finally be better than Japanese cars. Remember the Citation? Remember the Taurus? Remember the Escort? Remember the first Focus? The question is how will sales be two years in when people find out whether or not the transmissions only feel like something horrible is wrong, or how big of a headache caked up intake tracts will be, or how bad the build quality really is. Huge first year sales of critically acclaimed American cars is quite normal. Disappointment to follow.

      • 0 avatar
        PintoFan

        None of the American cars you named created disappointment besides the Citation. The Taurus was and still is considered one of the best sedan designs of the 80’s, had an extremely warm critical review, and was the best-selling car in America for more than a decade. The first Escort also sold in droves, and was considered to be a pretty decent cheap car. The Focus was also well received, and after the first bugs were worked out, went on to become a huge cash cow for Ford and be considered a very reliable car. I don’t think you’re really qualified to judge something as “disappointing,” when you have already proven time and again that you will worship anything that comes out of Japan and damn everything from anywhere else.

      • 0 avatar
        GarbageMotorsCo.

        Sadly, those initial “bugs” earned the Focus with one the all time most recalled cars in history.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Because of all the recalls on the initial Focus, that’s the singular impression I had of the (US) model. It wasn’t until the introduction of the European Focus this year that I thought to give it another look.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Is no one else as shocked as I am that Ford has successfully managed to move the Focus over $5,000 upmarket, and well above Honda and Toyota? This was a huge gamble.

      While I am a bit surprised about the amount being that high, I’m not surprised by the strategy or the general outcome.

      Mulally knows that the key to profitability is in higher margins, not higher volumes. The key to higher margins is higher prices, and the way to get push up prices is to strengthen both the product and the brand that is attached to it.

      Better product and branding lead to both higher pricing and lower percentages of fleet sales. (Even if the fleet volume remains the same, the percentage will decline if more cars can be retailed.) Make the car desirable enough, and the volumes will follow.

      GM spent years pursuing cost cutting measures, but those were folly. Most of a car’s costs come from parts, and cheap parts are used to build lousy cars. It’s much smarter to buy or build better parts, and then mark them up.

      • 0 avatar

        “Mulally knows that the key to profitability is in higher margins, not higher volumes. The key to higher margins is higher prices, and the way to get push up prices is to strengthen both the product and the brand that is attached to it. ”

        Bingo. That’s the whole thing, right there. “One Ford” = fewer, global products = more resources to invest in each product = better products = bigger margins = sustainable corporate profits, even when the economy goes south. That’s it.

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      Actually, Michael, I’ve seen quite a few Cruze LTZs on the road here in Texas. And yes, I’m just as baffled as you about how Ford (and GM) did it. I promise you, I’m in Dallas, and you can’t find ONE Focus here…I mean they’re absolutely sold out, except for a few base S models and a few bone-stock SEs. And, I’ve seen almost no 2012 Civics on the road here either…another one that baffles me, as Civics usually multiply like rabbits here.

      • 0 avatar

        So the upper-level Foci are selling well even in an import-friendly place like Texas? And the ones left on the lots are the cheap ones? It’s doing even better than I realized.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        @Michael:

        Yep, they are. And they just had some SE’s come in today. Titaniums and SELs are back ordered for at least two more weeks. And yes, I am surprised that this many Focuses are being sold in Texas. Even in Austin, which is about as domestic-unfriendly as you get in this state.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Here in the Ozarks, I am stunned at how many Cruz are running around!
      And Explorers as well!

      Michael…I must be a lone thinker(?), but I enjoyed the last generation Focus.
      I owned one and it road around nicely…
      It was rather comfortable, in both front AND back seats, and handles very nicely, considering it was 15K. I purchased it in 03 and at that time it was hard to find any competition at that price that felt as nice.

      I purchased it for my mom and dad, so it wasn’t driven madly.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      “Is no one else as shocked as I am that Ford has successfully managed to move the Focus over $5,000 upmarket, and well above Honda and Toyota? This was a huge gamble.”

      No, not shocked at all – we’re looking at replacing Mrs. Monty’s ’05 Focus, and have looked at: Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus, Nissan Altima Coupe, Infiniti G Coupe (used) and BMW 335I (also used), and in all seriousness the Focus was very, very impressive for the price. It is a much better car than the new Civic my partner’s wife bought, and a vastly superior car to my freind’s new Corolla. I haven’t had any seat time in a Cruze and last drove a ’07 Mazda 3, so I can’t state with absolute authority that the Focus is best in class, but it’s got to be close to it.

      The Fiat felt like a luxury car, and drove much larger than it’s size would indicate, but it’s sluggish, even with the stick. The Fiesta, while nice enough, was also sluggish (no friggin’ sticks on the lot, so we had to drive a slush-box). The Altima, G and 3 Series are impressive, of course, but they’re much more expensive than the smaller cars.

      Unfortunately, Mrs. Monty wants a coupe, with get-up-and-go, and a manual transmission – almost impossible to find in the smaller sized cars. So we either wait for the Fiat 500 Abarth, or wait out Ford bringing the Focus Coupe across the pond.

    • 0 avatar
      300zx_guy

      they are able to move the Focus upmarket because of the Fiesta. For some reason, this seems to be the way with nameplates – the cars that wear them grow in size/price/pretensions to the point that they are a class above what they used to be, and a new nameplate slots in below them (Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Toyota Echo/Yaris, Nissan Versa, etc). I think this is because satisfied owners of car “X” come in to buy the new “X”, and they expect it to be better than the old “X”, but maybe they’re not quite willing to step up to the “Y” that is a size/price class above it. Before you know it, the new “X” is in a whole different segment than it used to be, so the new “W” is born.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    I think horrible cars should have their names retired like terrible hurricanes. Anyone know why Chrysler reused the Aspen nameplate?

    Also, anyone know which word kicked this comment into moderation??? Terrible, Horrible, Aspen???

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I don’t really agree with the overall analysis here. GM has plenty of names that go back generations, even if some have disappeared and reappeared. Ford really only has it’s trucks and the Mustang that go back to when my parents were young. On the whole it doesn’t appear Ford has done any better job keeping names than GM. Of course, I’m taking a fairly long historical perspective here.

    If we confine the analysis to the C segment, Ford has done better here than GM. Better in design and quality so they haven’t needed as many name changes. They didn’t need to change the name to take Focus upmarket – Focus may have been ho-hum, but it wasn’t widely considered a POS. But lets not forget that Ford dropped the Escort moniker, and the Pinto. And they no longer make either the Maverick or the Falcon (OK, down under) Not sure if the last two qualify as C segment – don’t have time to look up their dimensions.

    Chevy probably needed a new name for it’s C vehicle. Cobalt wasn’t any better respected than Cavalier.

    Yes, I’m slightly surprised that Ford gets 5K more for a Focus than they did not long ago. But had they changed the name, how much credit would we be giving the name change?

    Long lasting names seem to be the exception rather than the rule, and that seems to be true for most producers.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to look at a Toyota Crown.

    • 0 avatar

      This wasn’t exactly a puff piece for Ford. The “F” and “MK_” concepts are given the treatment they deserve. And the latter is still with us. Shouldn’t the MKS, MKZ, an MKX really be the Continental, Zephyr, and Aviator? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lincolns get their names back when if an when Lincoln gets truly great products.

      This wasn’t really about Ford and GM per se, but about dumping names in an attempt to start over. There is no starting over. Just creating better products and plowing through.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynamic88

        I wasn’t suggesting it was a puff piece for Ford. Sorry if I gave that impression. I was just pointing out that while what you said about the C segment is true enough, it doesn’t really hold up when applied to other segments.

        Lincoln should get rid of it’s alphabet soup. Real names are easier to remember than letters/numbers. Continental should come back. Not so sure about Zephyr and Aviator.

        I respectfully disagree that there is no starting over. Dropping Pinto and Vega were probably good ideas. Not sure we really need to revive Polara.

        You’re right that building better cars is more important that coming up with better names – Focus proves that. But cars are more than transport, and so car names are more than mere labels. I think sometimes, they need to change.

  • avatar
    jplew138

    Hmm, interesting discussion we’re having here on names and such. But as far as the Focus goes, it seems that everyone forgot that when the first Focus came out in 1999, it was widely acclaimed as the best small car you could buy, and had a long run on Car and Driver’s Ten Best list to back it up. The problems with the Focus only came later, when some genius within Ford decided that the U.S. wasn’t good enough to get the newest Focus platform in 2004. Can you say “big mistake”?

    • 0 avatar
      PintoFan

      Indeed, I don’t see where the perception of the Focus as a bad car is coming from. It was acclaimed by many when it was launched, and remained a consistent seller for years, even when the platform aged. Outside of maybe the first 1-2 years, they are still considered reliable cars by most people I know. My own family had a 2003 Focus wagon for some time, and it was one of the best cars we ever owned. It was a far better car than the Dodge Spirit that we had before.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        “My own family had a 2003 Focus wagon for some time, and it was one of the best cars we ever owned. It was a far better car than the Dodge Spirit that we had before.”

        You need a bigger yardstick.

        A friend of mine bought a new ZX3 P-ZEV in 2003. I remember driving it the day he got the car, and I liked everything except an oval scarring of the dashboard from one of Ford’s many ‘all-in!’ idiocies. It went 37 thousand miles and then needed repairs equal to its pathetic residual value. Perhaps the dealer took advantage of my friend in not covering the repairs, or in over charging for whatever they were, but it was a Ford dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        PintoFan

        “You need a bigger yardstick.”

        Perhaps you need to admit that there are good cars outside the tiny realm of what you consider to be “quality.” As for your friend, internet anecdotes will be internet anecdotes, but our car experienced no such problems in the entire 100k plus miles that we owned it. Statistics would show that our ownership experience was far more typical than what happened to your friend- if what happened to your friend ever even happened at all.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I’ll ask him for more detail, as it has been quite a while since he told me why he was ditching the Focus for a BMW in 2005 or 2006. I know he wasn’t happy about it not holding up better. Ironically, bad experiences with the E38 and the 2008 VW GTI DSG that followed it now see him buying another Ford. This time a used one though.

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      +1 PintoFan

      I think that what happened to the Focus was that some esteemed personality within Ford decided that the Focus was not worth their time to redesign, and the sales and perception of the Focus slid downward as a result. I do know this, though. After having driven both the previous Focus and the new one, you’d think that they were made by two totally different car companies. Maybe Ford learned a lesson from this? We can always hope.

      • 0 avatar
        PintoFan

        I think that the age of the global platform is going to end bad decisions like that. Now that it’s been shown that Americans are willing to pay for premium small cars (and are coming to expect a certain level of features in that regard), it will behoove manufacturers to offer vehicles which are as refined as those sold in the European market. The American manufacturers seem to realize this, but I think that the spree of decontenting couldn’t come at a worse time for both the Japanese and Volkswagen. CJ talked about cars that have a warm reception but generate disappointment later- I remain firmly convinced that the new Jetta will fit this category to a T.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        You got that right. I would say that Volkswagen should be ashamed of themselves for the interior of the Jetta, but judging by the way they’re selling, I could be wrong. But that kind of thing will come back and bite you in the end…just ask the Big Three, or Big Two or whatever they are now.

  • avatar
    jeremie

    I’m not bothered so much by a name going up in price and quality as when a manufacturer offers less content for an equal or higher price. For example Jetta, Civic and others.
    Also don’t like seeing an old name applied to a vehicle which has zero “DNA” with a previous model.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Most of the renaming which has happened in the car industry during my life time has been a net negative. Part of the question, in my mind, is if the old name had significant brand equity built up over years or decades.

    Nissan made the biggest of all this class of mistakes when they ditched Datsun for Nissan in the US. That move cost them countless hundreds of millions in lost sales and lost advertising investment.

    Pontiac blew it with the “G_” names.

    Saab blew it with the x-y names.

    Cadillac blew it when they went from great brands to silly letters.

    Lincoln’s MK*** was a brain dead move.

    Ford and Mercury doing the too cute Ford starts with F, Mercury starts with M naming scheme belongs right up there on the wall of shame.

    Acura has never recovered from giving up great names like the Integra and Legend.

    Is there an overpaid marketing consulting firm which is behind all of these stupid moves, or is it just a poster child case of GroupThink gone wrong?

    Ford is right to have said enough is enough. Make each generation of a vehicle better than the one which went before and you can hold your marketing head high whilst using the same name. Every time a company ditches a name, it offends those who bought the old one. Say someone loved their Pontiac Bonneville and came in two years ago looking for another one. Sorry pal, we don’t have Bonnevilles anymore, but we have this too cool for school G-007 to sell you. Ah, never mind.

    There are a few exceptions to this principle. The Aveo was never a real Chevy and had only built negative brand equity, so killing that name was smart. The Vega and Pinto (both of which were new names when introduced) also had such negative associations that the names probably needed to be retired. Other than those, I can’t think of any major company vehicle name of the past thirty years which deserved to be retired. The present Focus should have been the Escort, but then Escort didn’t start with “F” during the reign of terror!

    • 0 avatar

      Another excellent point in the comments: dropping a name offends your previous customers–and costs them a chunk of change at trade-in time.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      “Is there an overpaid marketing consulting firm which is behind all of these stupid moves”

      Yes. There’s a branding theory that meaningless alphanumeric names are better than actual word-type names because they call attention to the make rather than the model. You might say “I drive a Corvette” but probably not “I drive a Chevy”, because Corvette has more meaning. But nobody says “I drive a 335iXdrive”, they say “I drive a BMW”.

      So the marketing dweebs decided that it would be best to rename everything that, e.g., Lincoln made into a series of indecipherable nonsense, so you wouldn’t say “My Continental is such a piece of crap!” but rather “My Lincoln is such a piece of crap!”. (Sidenote: I don’t even remember what the name is for the Lincoln Taurus, but I do remember that it isn’t MKT. Shame, that: it would make it much easier.)

      Ditto for Pontiac, Acura, and the rest. I seriously hope that this trend stops because it’s just so obviously a load of crap.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        It’s the “MKS”. I have trained myself for a few years, and now I get them right nost of the time.

        I think that it actually could have worked to have ONE car named “MK-something”. But as it is, it’s just so silly.

        Also, it undermines the best Lincolns for 3 decades, the Mark series.

        And, ironically, the car that was most similar to the departed Mark VIII (rear-wheel drive, IRS, sporty overtones) was named the LS. A complete oddball.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        There’s a branding theory that meaningless alphanumeric names are better than actual word-type names because they call attention to the make rather than the model.

        There’s more to it than that.

        Cadillac and Lincoln have been using alphanumeric names because they want to be like BMW, Mercedes and Audi — they want to export their cars to foreign markets. And that means having names that work in countries that aren’t English-speaking.

        Personally, I think that it’s a pipedream for either GM or Ford to expect to export these in large quantities, and they should adjust their naming conventions and branding plans so as to deal with that reality. Assuming that they ever figure out how to make appealing global luxury cars, GM could sell export-friendly versions of its Cadillacs as upscale Opels, and Ford could sell its world-car Lincolns as upscale Fords outside of North America. They could give the American market cars different badges and styling, and avoid the world luxury car strategy that the Germans still manage to do better than anyone else.

        American consumers demand separate luxury branding, hence the need to maintain Cadillac and Lincoln in the US. But that distinct dual-track mainstream/luxury branding strategy isn’t so important abroad. And in any case, neither Cadillac nor Lincoln make anything that anyone abroad wants, so what’s the point?

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      @John Horner:

      The problem is that car companies hire these overpaid ad firms, who neither have knowledge of, nor care about the history of a particular nameplate, and give them carte blanche to do whatever they want in the name of increasing sales.

      And none of it works, but seeing as they paid these ad firms untold millions of dollars to “spruce up” a brand’s image, they feel that they have no choice but to go with it.

      And by the way…you’re right on all counts. Especially Acura…I’ve wondered for years what the hell they were thinking. Bet some people who run Acura now wonder the same thing.

      • 0 avatar

        I recall seeing in one of the car rags of the time that when Acura unveiled the first RL, the company stated the name was changed because so many happy owners raved to their friends about their Legends, yet hardly anyone referred to the “Acura” brand that Honda spent so much time and money on. Of course, today’s Acura/Honda would love to have the same problem…

        Incidentally, immediately below this thread MLB inadvertently makes Acura’s case, by initially referring to the brand “Integra.” Those model names still resonate among enthusiasts, more so than RL, TL, TSX et al. or “Acura” ever will.

  • avatar
    MLB

    There seems to be a general dearth of attractive and/or mellifluous car names these days – or maybe it’s just a lack of imagination.

    But does anyone actually buy a car based on its name?

    Names can cetainly influence the emotional end of buying a new car, and many old models have great sentimental value attached to them that is enhanced because their names.

    However, there has been a latter-day trend of just making something up that sounds ‘real’.

    Integra and Lexus, just to name a couple, are completely made-up whole brand names, and almost seem like they must be derived from something larger, but actually have no greater meaning apart from their identification with their respective car models.

    This is not to say that these names aren’t effective, and of course their franchises are worth billions, but I’ve always been a bit put-off by ‘Integra\'; and Lexus to me seems even a bit corrupt, in some kind of misapplied Latin-esque vision of decadence – which may be just what the marketing boffins had in mind!

    But these examples reflect my own tastes and prejudices, and we all have our own favorite names and car lines.

    I like almost all of the early Impalas, and the name seems to fit perfectly, suggesting a kind of sleek and effortless natural movement that the cars themselves were capable of; and I will admit that the name does effect my view of them.

    And I am also fond of the early Ford Galaxie – intentionally mispelled from ‘Galaxy’ – and this term came to known be during the beginning of the ‘space age’ in society in general, and so the car just kind of slid right in under it.

    And Thunderbird and Corvette are both highly evocative and still work wonderfully well.

    But I agree that Aveo is a lame moniker, whatever it really means, as if anyone really cared, and casts a suspicious light on the car, however irrational this may seem.

    And why call a car Sonic?

    Does it sound particularly good in some way?

    A better name for cars like this would be ‘Urd’, IMHO.

    Saturn was a great idea for a new car line, and it is amazing that the name just sat there unused over the years, after Mercury had so long a run and, though now retired, earned itself a pretty good rep.

    But Saturn has already tanked, and so that’s that. . .

    But offhand I think two of the worst car names are the Subaru Justy, and the phony-sounding Chevy HHR – standing for Heritage High Roof.

    I have no inkling what they were aiming for with the former, and the latter to me is a seemingly desperate and hasty attempt to link-up with the past by GM, when faced by the formidable challenge of the hot-selling and much more slickly named ‘P.T.Cruiser’ of Chrysler; and although they may have muffed it with the name, the vehicle itself is not so bad, and was at least a decent response to the P.T.

    Even the P.T. name was very unusual at the time and seemed to be a bit frivolous; but because it was such a smash hit, the name and car became icons almost overnight.

    But this is a fascinating psychological aspect of the automotive universe, and the names and advertising techniques down through the years have always certainly been of paramount importance in the American auotmotive scene, and have even caused the usually more sober Europeans to knuckle-under occasionally over the years, both in naming and styling ( the ‘finny’ Mercs of the mid 60’s).

    But as for the something-getting-lost-in-the-translation dept., Nissan is still at it:

    The hyper Godzilla GT-R has always been known as the Skyline (how? why?)

    and the other erstwhile Datsun and current Nissan sports cars have always been known in their home market as the ‘Fair Lady’, with fancy chrome script on the upper front fenders (or elsewhere) stating as much.

    Really!?!

    How charmingly and inappropriately delicate!

    • 0 avatar
      jplew138

      Am I the only one who thinks of a quickly-rotating hedgehog when the name Sonic is mentioned? Or a foot-long hot dog??

    • 0 avatar
      MLB

      In the post above I cited “Integra and Lexus. . .” as being two entire car lines.

      But of course I meant “Acura and Lexus. . .”, with the Integra being one of the Acura models.

      And I also meant to say about the ‘Acura’ name itself that it has always seemed to me to be an inaccurate rendering of the word ‘accurate\'; but after all of this, who am I to be talking about accuracy, eh what?

      Thank you for your indulgence.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Wait, HHR actually stood for something?

      I always just pronounced it “Chevy HURR”.

      edit: As for the Skyline thing, GT-R used to be just a trim level for the Nissan Skyline sport sedan/sport coupe, in the same way that “M3″ is a trim level for the BMW 3-series. Eventually the “GT-R” bit was more important than the “Skyline” bit and the names forked: the Skyline became a sport luxury sedan/coupe (aka the Infiniti G35) and the GT-R was its own separate model. The whole “trim level forks off to be its own vehicle” thing happens all the time.

      (and yeah, Fairlady was a weird name. At least they didn’t call it that over here. The 180SX/240SX was the “Silvia”, too. Bizarre.)

  • avatar
    Mr Butterfly

    It’s all good as long as VW don’t call Golf a Rabbit. Ever. Again.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    Seven cars are rated better than the new Focus at CR.
    This car is not a success for consumers.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      And do all of those cars compete in the same class as the Focus?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, they do, in the sedan ranking.

      But for reasons that aren’t obvious the SEL hatchback scored a very substantial six points higher than the SE sedan, and is the fourth-ranked hatchback. If the SEL sedan scored at highly as the SEL hatch, it would tie for second instead of being eighth. Yet CR’s text doesn’t explain this large difference between the SE and SEL. The only thing they say about either trim level is that the SE’s trunk isn’t lined.

      Remember that any rating scheme assumes a certain set of criteria, and CR’s are very broad. The Focus has some definite weaknesses, and some really big strengths. In a system like CR’s, the latter cannot entirely compensate for the former. Instead, cars that do everything fairly well will rank higher.

      The top-ranked compact sedan, by a substantial margin: the Hyundai Elantra. I’ve spent a week in both the Elantra and the Focus, and would much rather spend time in the latter. The Elantra doesn’t ride or handle nearly as well, and doesn’t feel nearly as much like a premium European car. But it does have a roomier rear seat, simpler controls, and a better-behaved automatic transmission, so it scores more total points in CR’s system.

      Next up: the Nissan Sentra. A thoroughly boring car to drive, but again roomy and well-behaved. The Focus SEL hatchback scored an equal number of points.

      Third: the Subaru Impreza, another car that disappointed me when I drove it. But it is much roomier inside than the old Impreza, which I enjoyed driving more. And it’s fairly quick and equipped with AWD.

      Fourth: Toyota Corolla. Seeing a pattern here?

      Fifth: Kia Forte (but in the hatchback ranking the Focus ranks higher)

      Sixth: Mazda3. Best handling car in the bunch.

      Seventh: Chevrolet Cruze

      • 0 avatar
        vbofw

        Thanks for laying that out, Michael.

        To see econoboxes like the sentra, impreza, and corrolla ranked ahead of the new Focus is quite amusing! You put it well, and CR seems to reward mediocrity at everything, and rewards never EVER pushing the envelope. Which is ok, it’s their style. To them the vanilla car that breaks down once in 10 years is far superior to the beautifully-styled and technologically advanced car that breaks down twice.

        Even though I’m not the target market; I for one am glad the Focus’ German engineers decided to ignore this sad fact of auto journalism and go big.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        Rankings can be quite subjective, and shouldn’t be one’s only guide when buying a car. Having said that, I fully agree with Michael about the Elantra vs. the Focus. The Focus feels far more premium and of a piece than the Elantra. And I’d rather have either of them than a Sentra, Forte, or Corolla.

        The only other two cars on that list that I’d even consider are the 3 and the Cruze. And I couldn’t do the 3 because of that hideous clown face, and the Cruze doesn’t have enough power for its size.

      • 0 avatar
        jplew138

        +1 vbofw

        You summed up my feelings about CR in a few sentences. Although I did get in a bit of trouble for saying much the same thing, I’ve still got to give you a big high-five for that.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Further proof that CR is for buying appliances. That said, CR rewards all around performers. Any thing that is remotely narrow focus does poorly. Look at how they rank the Wrangler, for example. So, NO THANKS to the toaster testers.

  • avatar
    ravenchris

    MK, re-read the CR review on the 135i. Please remind everyone that you claim TruDelta competes with and is superior to CR.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t feel I was critical of CR here, and certainly didn’t intend to seem this way. I think CR does a very good job with their road test evaluations, and actually weights the driving experience higher than most people realize, and perhaps higher than they should given their audience.

      It’s not just CR. Any comparison test that ranks cars by summing up scores in a large number of criteria is going to favor cars that do everything pretty well over those that are outstanding in a few areas but clearly lacking in others unless the subscores are allowed to vary widely–which they rarely are. Instead, average performers will often get a 7 or 8 out of 10, so the outstanding performers can only pick up a few points.

      You’ll even see this in the results of an enthusiast-oriented magazine like Car & Driver. Originally C&D used to have a total score that was not a simple sum of the subscores for this reason, and this was stated in the fine print at the bottom of the score box. But too many people didn’t see the fine print and sent letters deriding C&D for its clear inability to add. Over the years they grew tired of these letters, so they started making the total score the sum of the subscores. At first they included a “fudge factor” in the form of a “gotta have it” subscore. But this seemed oddly applied so many times, and they ended up eliminating it a few years ago.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I wish I would have gotten into this conversation sooner, as I’ve been saying this for years, YEARS!

    Every time you change a name, you throw away brand equity. Even Cadillac learned and decided not to touch the “Escalade” name and turn it into something stupid. I’m still mad at Acura for ditching the Legend name.

    • 0 avatar
      CRConrad

      @Spartan: “Even Cadillac learned and decided not to touch the ‘Escalade’ name and turn it into something stupid.”

      Only because the name “Escalade” didn’t need turning into something stupid — it always was.

    • 0 avatar
      300zx_guy

      I know Acura must be working on an RL replacement. I think it’s a no-brainer to call it “Legend”. The advertising copy writes itself: “The Legend is back”. For everyone who has written off Acura over the years, this might warrant another look. The “Legend” nameplate is one of my all time favorites – imagine starting a new brand with no history and calling your first model “Legend”! The first was a decent enough car, the coupe especially was quite handsome in its day, but then 2nd generation really showed that this upscale Japanese brand was for real. And then they went with the alphanumeric labeled cars that weren’t better than the cars they replaced, and they brand lost its way. It’s time to rebuild the “Legend”.

  • avatar
    tech98

    Then there’s the height of stupidity: scrapping a strong nameplate. Acura replaced “Integra” and “Legend” with “RSX” and “RL.”

    Dumbest marketing move ever.
    It’s as if Acura masochistically decided to take a dump on their customer base to chase after mythical new customers that didn’t exist, and flushed their brand image in the process. A prime exhibit in the creeping mediocritization of Honda.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    So help me out…

    Are all the “MK_” remarks because there are no “numbers” to keep life more simplified for you?
    Or is it just the last lettering.

    Is it you all feel better with “A”whatever?
    Or MBW and some number?

    Is it the complexity that irritates all of you?

    Maybe MK1, MK3, 5 or 7 will make it feel more credible?
    M1 M3, M5 or 7?????

    Look, get over it. If the cars were great enough, the little things like that would blow away .
    And they are really nice cars.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      I think what is confusing is what do the last letter mean – for example MKS would imply a sedan (S for sedan) well there is the MKZ (last letter in the alphabet but smallest and cheapest Lincoln) and the MKS. MKX I can understand as X for crossover, MKT, T for touring?

      At least the BMW system (and Audi) has a bigger number for a bigger car. Mercedes (and Cadillac) have a number further up the alphabet for a bigger car. Lincoln has?


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