Some automotive nameplates transcend boundaries, while others simply do not – or cannot. You might think you’re familiar with a certain car in our local market, but cross into another country and pseudonyms and assumed identities become a way of life for a number of brands.
Well, naming a car isn’t easy. Imagine trying to devise a name that comes up clear of other registered trademarks, sounds good, and is free from any kind of misinterpretation. It’s a lot harder than it seems, which probably explains the rise of meaningless alphanumeric naming conventions, particularly amongst prestige manufacturers.
In an attempt to clarify the bedlam that is the automotive name game, we take a look at the myth, mystique and madness behind some of the cars we know so well, and even some of the ones we don’t.
This week, we’re taking a look at cars with multiple personalities
For car enthusiasts, there’s nothing better than an overseas trip and a thorough investigation of what makes the local car scene tick.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to do so, it can be an eye-opening experience. And for the eagle-eyed, spotting names you know on cars you don’t, or vice versa, can be an equally steep learning curve.
Let’s get the rude ones out of the way first, so that we can all have a schoolboy giggle before getting on with things, starting with the example we probably all know (and love to laugh at), the Mitsubishi Pajero.
The word itself is Spanish and lays claim to a few varied definitions. However, the slang form caused problems for Mitsubishi as the definition of someone who tends to be a little too into their own company, if you know what I mean. (If you don’t, it describes chronic masturbation. There, happy now?)
As a result, you’ll find the Pajero rebranded as the Montero in Spain and parts of South America to avoid unnecessary giggling, where the term means huntsman, which seems much more socially acceptable.
Other parts of the world have opted to use the Japanese term for a feudal-era lord: Shogun. Equally as inoffensive (and as far as images go, much easier to find for the purposes of illustrating this article).
You may have heard something similar about the Ford Pinto too, with Ford apparently discovering all too late that Pinto refers to an undersized male member in the local slang of Brazil.
While it’s true pinto does translate to penis in Portuguese, Ford never sold the Pinto in Brazil – instead, the unrelated Corcel was offered in the Brazilian market, and that name means horse. I’m pretty sure you can create your own punchline there.
Better to focus on the stories that do exist, then, like Honda’s near-miss with the Jazz. Overseas, you’ll find it branded the Fit, but urban legend has it that wasn’t always to be the case, with Fitta originally nominated – until someone cleverly realised that Swedes and Norwegians had already assigned that name to female genitalia.
Giggly names aside, some of the more mundane examples almost need to come with their own family tree.
One of the worst offenders is the Nissan Pulsar, or at least that’s what we last knew it as in Australia. Head over the ocean and you’ll find the most recent Pulsar was actually two cars: the Tiida hatch and the Sylphy sedan.
Except... Those names aren’t used everywhere. Travel the world and you’ll find the sedan badged as the Sentra, with earlier versions also known as the Bluebird, Sunny and Almera (keep those in mind for a moment), while the hatch also goes by Versa and Latio (save a spot in your memory for those too).
Now, Almera should sound familiar to Aussie buyers as an unloved sedan version of the Micra hatch (itself also marketed as the March in Japan and Pulse in India), but you won’t find Almera badges everywhere. No, instead look out for Sunny, Latio and Versa badging yet again, depending on where you travel, as well as Scala.
Versa reappears on versions of the Nissan Note hatchback depending on where you travel. Look closely, and you’ll also see in some markets that Nissan has rearranged the letters of the Note badge to create the Nissan Tone.
Before that, though, the Versa offered in America was the Pulsar we got. Although, back then Australia didn’t use the Pulsar name – we called that car the Tiida. Have I lost you yet? No? Great, because there’s more.
Bluebird is another noteworthy example, appearing under aliases like Stanza and Pintara. Some versions of the Altima also wear Stanza badges, while others are called the Teana – a car that Aussies knew as the Maxima, while Japan referred to its predecessor as the Cefiro. Pathfinder models also masquerade as Terrano and Terramax depending on where you go.
Ford Australia is about to do the same thing when it launches the Endura SUV in Australia, known as the Edge elsewhere, to go with the Escape – aka Kuga depending on your position on the globe – and the Mondeo... Or is it the Fusion?
Toyota earns a mention, too. Aussie families may have piled into Aurions here, but elsewhere that car was simply a Camry. We’ve known the Corolla as a Corolla forever, but the hatch is an Auris in Europe (although, since penning this Toyota has confirmed Corolla is coming back) and elsewhere Sprinter, Tazz, RunX, and Blade badges have been run either alongside Corolla branding, or often on their own, as various ways of identifying the world’s most popular small car.
The 4Runner we got was the HiLux Surf elsewhere (okay, technically we got both), and our Tarago will answer to Previa, MasterAce, TownAce Surf, Estima, and Space Cruiser (seriously!) depending on your time and relative dimension in space… Get it, TARDIS… Oh, never mind.
Kia also plays the name game with cars like the Picanto, Cerato, Optima, Rondo and Carnival operating under aliases like Morning, Forte, Magentis, Carens and Sedona respectively. Not to mention a home-market naming strategy that sees K3, K5, K7 and K9 applied to cars that might otherwise get real names elsewhere.
Along with the Pajero switcheroo, Mitsubishi Australia took a leaf out of Nissan’s book with its strategy for the Sigma, which identifies as a Galant in some markets and Colt in others. But overseas, Colt also refers to versions of the Lancer and Mirage, while Mirage answers to Attrage and Space Star.
Lancer suffers a split personality, too. We use the L-word, but some markets run with Galant (have you kept track of how many vehicles Galant is applied to yet?) while others prefer Cedia.
Now, deep breath...
The family-friendly Magna that Aussies know and love was introduced as an Australia-specific wide-body version of the Galant. However, Europe also received a version called the Sigma. And before entering the United States, the Magna changed its name to Diamante, except that version wasn’t the Magna at all, but rather the Verada, which was only a fancy Magna in the first place.
That all seems fair and reasonable doesn’t it? Now, how’s that family tree looking?