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As the Bard might have put it, “That which we call an all-electric emissions-free vehicle, by any other name would drive as sweet.”
To gain mainstream acceptance by mainstream car buyers, electric cars will face all kinds of real economic and technical challenges—such as limited driving range, hefty price premiums, and lack of charging stations. But a car company’s first task in marketing an electric car or plug-in hybrid is coming up with a name that gives a sense of a bold new step in automotive technology, yet one that is not too strange or off-putting.
EV-makers have shown mixed results based on a review of the upcoming crop of electric-drive vehicles.
When the folks from Daimler decided to add an electric drive to the diminutive Smart ForTwo, it was only too obvious to take the term “Electric Drive” and tack it on the end of the car’s name with the acronym, “E.D.” That was an unfortunate choice in the age of Viagra, especially for a wee car lacking a high horsepower engine. Daimler started production of the first 1,000 units in France last month, but hopefully the marketing guys in Stuttgart will man up to the oversight, and switch the name to “Smart EV” before bringing the car to the United States.
Sure, it’s a nice play on words for a car to help the world “turn over a new leaf” when it comes to cars, energy, and the environment. Of course, the leaf is one of nature’s ways of replenishing the air with fresh oxygen. But do high-tech early adopters really want to be driving…a Leaf? And what’s the plural, “Nissan Leaves?”
In the past year, the car company called “Th!nk”—with an exclamation point instead of an “i”—has teetered back and forth over the precipice of bankruptcy. The company, resurrected by Valmet Automotive and battery-maker Ener1, recently resumed small-scale production of the Th!nk City in Finland. As if it’s not already confusing enough to figure out when to use an “i” or an exclamation point, the planned follow-up to the two-seat Th!nk City is the more practical Th!nk OX, an electric five-seat car crossover vehicle. That vehicle is pronounced “Oh-ex,” like the Mac operating system, not like the castrated male cattle used for plowing and transport.
In another case of acronym confusion, Mitsubishi named its egg-shaped 100-mile-range electric car based on a mashup of the company’s “i” minicar, and the “Mitsubishi in-wheel electric vehicle,” the abandoned previous iteration of the car that placed motors in the wheels. That became the “Mitsubishi innovative electric vehicle.” Consumers probably won’t care much about that naming history of the vehicle, but they will want to know how to pronounce its name. Our best sources say, “i-meev,” to rhyme with sleeve.
Plug-in hybrids aren’t immune to the naming conundrum. Fisker Automotive went spiritual on us with its Karma, even though the cosmic cycle of cause and effect can be positive or negative. Neighborhood electric vehicles from ZENN, or “Zero Emission No Noise,” also borrow from an eastern spiritual concept. The Canadian company recently stopped producing vehicles and will become one with selling electric drivetrains.
The Chevy Volt follows in a line of vehicles using electric methaphors, including the Toyota Volta hybrid supercar concept, the Tesla, the canceled Dodge Circuit, and the old-school Solectria Force. GM spun off a social networking website for the Volt called “Voltage,” which could be pronounced Volt Age. Of course, this opens the door to punster critics who might find the $40,000 price tag “revolting.”
The naming situation will only get worse as new models are introduced. It makes you nostalgic for the last generation of electric cars, which kept things very simple: GM’s EV1, Honda’s EVPlus, and Toyota’s RAV4 EV. In our estimation, the car company that has most successfully captured the best qualities of efficient hybrid, electric and fuel cell vehicles is Honda, with its Civic, Insight, and Clarity.
What’s your bright idea for a good electric car name?