There are a number of reasons as to why a manufacturer would do this, and in many cases, such as Mercedes-Benz, the move from ML to GLE and GL to GLS made sense in context of the rest of the German manufacturer’s nomenclature, as did the changes to its other model names.
Holden’s big seven-seat SUV was never a standout model, and the name drew obvious connection to the parody Canyonero SUV from the Simpsons. Sure, Trailblazer is a global name and the change helps separate the SUV from the pick-up on which it is based, but the rest of the updates for the Trailblazer were inherently deserving of a fresh start and so a new name helps the marketing teams move past the past.
It can work the other way too. When Nissan changed the Pulsar to Tiida, they almost cut off sales of their small car overnight and were forced to return the Pulsar badge to showrooms when the next-generation car was released, such was the inherent equity in the nameplate. (It didn't help.)
Kuga was never a bad car by any stretch, and was, in our view, under rated amongst its peers. But the name didn’t really work here as well as it has done in Europe, and sometimes that is what matters.
The new Escape picks up the North American naming convention of all Ford SUVs starting with the letter ‘E’. Interestingly, the 2017 Escape is still called Kuga in Europe (it is built in Spain), because there didn’t seem to be the same cultural issue with the name.
Kuga, despite its spelling, is pronounced Cougar. And in a game of word association, cougar, in Australia at least, doesn’t usually have a car first and front of mind as your answer.
Urban-slang aside, Ford itself has even sold a properly-spelled Cougar, twice!
The somewhat forgettable (and subsequently quite rare) two-door sports coupe from the turn of the century, plus the once muscle-car staple from the late '60s, which was sold under Ford’s alternative ‘Mercury’ nameplate, through ever more pedestrian generations until the mid-1990s.
Then there’s the actual large-cat variety of cougar, which is also called a puma, which Ford also sold. Confused?
It gets worse.
Going down the phonetic rhyming tube, is Kooga the rugby apparel manufacturer, Koopa turtles that Mario jumps on, Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street, and we’re back to cars with the Toyota Kluger.
Worse still, ‘kuga’ is the Slovenian word for ‘plague’. Awkward.
Put simply, it’s not a name that really makes sense in the marketing universe for a mid-size family SUV.
Escape offers a refreshing angle for getting out and away from it all. There’s connotations of freedom, fresh air, licensed pop songs and a flawless family doing a lot more than the school run without fighting with each other.
At the Australia preview of the 2017 Ford Escape, Ford Product Marketing Specialist, Allen Fong, told CarAdvice that “the name change isn’t that important for us, but it will help Australians think differently about Ford’s SUV range”.
Judging from comments in our first quick drive of the car, he’s not far wrong. Overwhelming response suggests that Kuga just didn’t resonate with buyers, and regardless of how competent a car is, if people wont pay attention and visit showrooms, it doesn’t matter.
The 2017 Ford Escape looks then to be a promising step forward for Ford’s SUV strategy. The range is now broader to offer models in the specifications that buyers want, and the fresh look helps the new, old, name make a lot more sense.
What do you think? Was the Kuga nameplate a mistake in Australia? Will Escape help the mid-size SUV seem more relevant to buyers? Let us know in the comments below.
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