Axon's Automotive Anorak: The worst thought out car names

02nd November 2018
Gary Axon

Strolling  through the exhibition halls on the quite final Press Day at the recent Paris Motor Show with a French motoring journalist friend of mine, mon ami Thierry stopped in his tracks, did a double-take, and rushed over to the Audi stand, saying “oh no, they’ve actually done it!”


He sidled-up to the new star of the Audi display, the German marque’s first all-electric model, and pointed to the model badge on the tailgate, repeating “I can’t believe they’ve actually done it, it must be a joke!”

The badge in question that caused Thierry to shake his head in disbelief was ‘e-tron’, the name of Audi’s all-new electric SUV production model. To the English speaking world, as in most other languages, e-tron seems to be a perfectly sound name. However, in French, pronounced in the local dialect, etron is slang for something unpleasant and brown that drops from an animals backside!

Audi has been using the ‘e-tron’ name for a while now on a number of its electric concept cars, so the French probably dismissed the name as a joke, thinking that it would never really be applied to a production model that you could actually buy and drive on the road. One would imagine that Audi’s French distributors must have informed their German colleagues about the new SUV’s unfortunate name, but seemingly it fell on deaf ears.

Of course, Audi isn’t the first car manufacturer to fall into the trap of naming a new model for global market consumption, where the complexities of choosing the right name can have serious implications.

Sticking with the similar nasty and smelly naming theme as the e-tron, Toyota famously came unstuck when it first launched its MR2 sportscar in the 1980s. The mid-engined MR2’s name was a contraction of ‘Midship Runabout 2-seater’ which, when pronounced in French, sounds like ‘merde’, a brown and unpleasant thing, as are many early MR2s these days! For France and Switzerland, Toyota wisely renamed the model simply MR, whereas part-French-speaking Belgium mysteriously retained the full MR2 name.


When Rolls-Royce was set to replace its aging Silver Cloud with a smaller, more modern model in the mid-1960s, it famously managed to avoid stepping into the same ‘cow pat’ trap as Audi and Toyota. The new model – ultimately named the Silver Shadow – was originally planned to retain Rolls-Royce’s ethereal-themed name and be branded as Silver Mist. In most markets this name would have been fine, except for the lucrative German-speaking countries, where Silver Mist when spoken sounds like a word for manure!

Manure was also the reason in Sweden that the Fiat Regata gained an extra ‘t’, to be branded as Regatta, as the former name is also local slang for a pile of dung, which some might think is quite fitting for this forgettable 1980s Italian family car.

Moving away rapidly from the tasteless subject of animal waste products resembling car names, and overlooking the unfortunate F.A.R.T. Breack made by Fabbrica Autoveicoli e Rimorchi Torino in the late 1960s, other badly considered car names include the Brazilian PAG Chubby (apt, as it was quite corpulent), the 1970s AMC Gremlin (from which the model suffered many), and the Portuguese Sado 550, which was as sad as its name suggested.

In some Latin-derived languages, a few car brands have ‘prostituted’ their products, such as Mazda’s ill-named Le Pute and Volkswagen’s Jetta, plus (most famously) the Mitsubishi Pajero, which is a particularly unfortunately name in Spanish-speaking markets. In France the naming of the Hyundai Kona could have been better thought through as well, as Kona can sound like an very offensive term just across the Channel, which you might hear from a very irate local motorist if you cut him or her up on a roundabout!


Global events and extreme activists have also taken their toll on a car’s success, or otherwise. The current Toyota (and previous 1950s Morris) ISIS, for example, might prove more popular if renamed, with Kia wisely reconsidering its Provo (an extremist Irish movement) concept nomenclature. The UK-market timing of the Fiat Argenta introduction was unfortunate too, the car being launched in Spring 1982 just as the Falklands War began! Tata suffered a similar fate with its jaunty Zica hatchback, revealed shortly before the zika virus took hold; the model swiftly being renamed the Tiaga.

Superstition also has a role to play in settling on a globally-acceptable model name. In some parts of Asia, for example, the stylish Alfa Romeo 164 had to be rebadged 166, due to 164 being considered unlucky. Renault was forced to take similar action in Italy when the 1970s 17 coupe was announced, the car being re-branded 117 to avoid the Italians snubbing the ‘unlucky’ 17.

I’ll leave the final word on unfortunately named cars though to the British kit car industry, which given its alternative take on motoring, has inevitably exceeded the levels of good taste in vehicle naming, a few seizing on the power of the ‘F’ word.

An appealing 21st century take on the classic beach buggy kit theme, now known as the Hoppa buggy, was originally made by FUBAR, with the Company’s name standing for ****** Up Beyond All Recognition! The distinctive Census, briefly built by Oxfordshire-based sports car maker FBS, claimed that its Company name either stood for Fabulous British Sportscars, or ******* British ****, depending how business was going.

However, surely the most inspired name (or outrageous, depending on your viewpoint), must go to Bakewell-based, a short-lived kit car maker offering a Suzuki SJ-based body kit, the model being called the F.U.Kit. Now, that name really would get my French friend’s attention!

MR2 image courtesy of Bringatrailer.

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