Why Do Car Makers Like Musical Names?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 11:00 AM

The world's automakers are showing off their sleekest, most advanced vehicles at the Frankfurt Motor Show in Germany this week. While hybrids and high-tech concepts dominate the news headlines, a frequent source of curiosity are those new names. A Mazda Furai, anyone? How about a Cadillac Elmiraj or a Citroën Cactus?

Musical terms like Sonata or Duet are ever-popular. David Placek, president of Lexicon Branding, the marketing firm, believes this has to do with familiarity. "Music is universal," he said. "A lot of the words and phrases used to describe certain phrases in music are fairly well recognized."

A stirring or lyrical name can be a powerful selling tool, particularly when it comes to marketing more eco-friendly designs. Musical names "reflect women coming more into the marketplace, younger people driving more and cars getting more economical and more ecological," said Placek. Conversely, "if it's a big muscle car you don't want something softer and smoother."

Here's a look at the history of musical car names. Tell us your favorite – or propose your own in the comments box below.


The South Korean manufacturer Kia has legacy of cars with musical names: the premium Cadenza, the multi-purpose Rondo and the compact Forte (below).

In Frankfurt, South Korean automaker Hyundai is unveiling the latest edition of its midsized sedan the Sonata, which debuted in 1985. Pacek commends the name's rhythmic qualities. "You want something recognizable for a comfortable car," he said. "Sonata has good full tones to it."

In 2011, the company rolled out a "music to the eyes" ad campaign that played off its name:

The Honda Prelude (below) was one in a series of vehicles the Japanese automaker developed in the 1980s with musically-themed names. The most popular was the Prelude, which underwent five generations from 1978–2001. Others were the Quintet (1980–1985), Concerto (1988–1994), Ballade (1980-1986) and Jazz (1982-present).

 

A few auto buffs may remember the Daihatsu Storia, a subcompact car produced by Japanese automaker Daihatsu between 1998 and 2004, but which was better known in the US as the Toyota Duet. It replaced the questionably-named Charade in 1999.

The Nissan Note, a five-seat hatchback, is a rare example of a single syllable musical name. “Despite the musical inference of its name, the Note's engine was disappointingly cacophonous,” opined London’s Independent.

 

You won’t find it on American streets but the Aria, a crossover SUV from India’s Tata Motors, is the rare car that explicitly references opera in its name. It promises the “Finesse of a Sedan with the Muscle of an SUV.”

 

Of course, there are many musical names that came and went: the Austin Allegro had a moment in the 1970s. The Pontiac Firebird muscled along highways from 1967-2002 (eight years before the GM division folded) and the Ford Tempo set the pace of 1980s midsized vehicles. A commercial from the day encouraged buyers to “pick up the tempo of your life."

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Comments [1]

Roberta from Woodbury, Long Island

Ahhh...your mention of the Pontiac Firebird brought back wonderful memories of that exciting muscle car that I owned back in the late '70s! It was a 1973 V-8 350 engine in lacquer midnight blue with a white leather interior, two hood scoops and dual exhausts. I washed and polished it every weekend. It was all hood. It used to bottom out and would fishtail in the rain and snow. Not a safe car at all! But I loved its power and speed--would drive it at 100 and even 120 MPH on the back roads of Morris County when there was no traffic. I wish that I could have afforded to keep it as a "classic" but economics ruled, and I ended up buying a "sensible" car when that one died.

Sep. 12 2013 06:45 PM

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