Support Marketplace

Back to the future for car names

If you’re looking to buy a car anytime soon, you may get a case of déjà vu: Carmakers keep recycling old names.

If you’re looking to buy a car anytime soon, you may get a case of déjà vu. General Motors, which announces earnings today, is rejuvenating Chevy model names left and right: Silverado, Impala, Corvette, Camaro and the Malibu.

I caught up with auto analyst Lawrence Ulrich test driving the 2013 Chevy Malibu. Ulrich pushes the ignition button and the car's touch screen lights up -- the motor is barely audible.

"Chevy claims this is its quietest car," says Ulrich. When asked why car companies are always reusing names, instead of coming up with something new and fresh, Ulrich says, "Automakers have so much time and so many billions of dollars invested in marketing brands, they would prefer to maintain names, and familiarity really helps with buyers."

Ford has had a lot of success with the new Mustang and Chrysler has resurrected several Dodge brands, including its well-known muscle car, The Charger (then vs. now).

Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Edmunds, says old model names hold a mystique for younger buyers and a nostalgia for older buyers. "Part of is they were great names," says Krebs, "and naming cars is a very challenging thing. What we’ve seen a lot of in recent years are the alphanumeric names -- letters, numbers -- but the older names have a solid meaning to people, just great heritage that go with them."

Of course name recognition can go both ways. Edsel and Pinto have brand associations, too. But even a questionable association isn’t always enough to discourage car companies from trying to give them another go. Take the Dodge Dart, which had been mothballed for 36 years. "That was a strange one," says auto analyst Ulrich. "The image of the Dart is kind of like this doobie scented car from the 70s that you drove around with your high school friends."

The new Dart is based on an Alpha Romeo sports car and sales have been brisk.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...