Carmakers Ditch Luxury Names For Something More Practical Cadillac, the luxury car brand, is experimenting with a new way to name car models. Evocative names like DeVille, El Dorado and Fleetwood are out, and new names, such as CT6, ELR and XTS, are in.

Carmakers Ditch Luxury Names For Something More Practical

Carmakers Ditch Luxury Names For Something More Practical

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Cadillac, the luxury car brand, is experimenting with a new way to name car models. Evocative names like DeVille, El Dorado and Fleetwood are out, and new names, such as CT6, ELR and XTS, are in.


Let's play a word game - car names that evoke luxury, freedom and speed.


Mustang, Continental, Thunderbird.

BLOCK: El Dorado - well, now that cars are being named more practically, Sonari Glinton of our Planet Money podcast explains.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Cars haven't always had aristocratic names like the Fleetwood Brougham. I'm not really sure what either of those words mean, but it was a beautiful car. Matt Anderson is a curator at the Henry Ford Museum.

MATT ANDERSON: Every car company, when they started out, they tended not to have model names. It would just be the company's name would stand in for the cars. So even in the days of the Model T, most folks would refer to it as a Ford, because Ford simply didn't make anything else.

GLINTON: It was after World War II when the economy was booming and there were so many cars, not only did you need names to distinguish yourself from competitors, you just needed to stand out. Then came names for explorers, Native American mythology, the wild West and space.

ANDERSON: So you had things like the Fireflight, the Starliner, the Galaxy, the Comet - for that matter.

GLINTON: Think beautiful names like the Thunderbird, the Corvette, the Cordoba with soft Corinthian leather. But for every El Dorado, there's an Edsel. Here's Mark Takahashi from Edmunds.

MARK TAKAHASHI: History is unfortunately littered with awful car names. You have the Dodge Swinger, the Ford Escort, Ford Probe, the Hummer, the Mazda Titan Dump, and the AMC Gremlin.

GLINTON: I'm going to let you linger on the Mazda Titan Dump for a moment. Now, whatever you think about it, at least it's memorable. These days if you're buying a luxury car, you may find that there's not a proper name attached at all. You won't find a Coop DeVille, but you will find a CTS, an A7 and a bunch of other letters and numbers.

TAKAHASHI: You simply don't get that with something like an A8 or a Q70. Those are just, you know, letters picked out of a hat sometimes.

GLINTON: Now, the German companies have been using letters and numbers for about a hundred years, the part of the reasons car executives say is hierarchy. You may not know which is more expensive - an Impala or a Malibu - but an A8 is bigger and fancier than an A3. Japanese and American brands have been following suit. And here's the cold hard truth about why names are going away; the auto industry is not about America anymore.

JOHAN DE NYSSCHEN: Cadillac is now a global brand. It's not U.S.-centric anymore.

GLINTON: That's Johan de Nysschen. He's the head of Cadillac. Before we go on, I have to say he's a bit of a bogeyman for car-enthusiast nerds. He did move Cadillac from Detroit. The knock on him is that he wants to turn Cadillac into a German company. Now, he says he understands the nostalgia for these names, but he's got to sell cars in China.

DE NYSSCHEN: And if you look at major markets such as China, those wonderful romantic names from our history really do not resonate. And I can tell you that a lot of good names have been taken.

GLINTON: The way I would think of it is, you know, Frank Sinatra sang about El Dorados. I can't imagine him singing about an XT, do you know what I mean? Like, there's like...

DE NYSSCHEN: Yeah, of course, I know exactly what you mean. I can confirm that this is a little bit reality of life. Our world has become digital, not analog. But I would like Frank Sinatra or perhaps Lady Gaga then to be singing about Cadillac and not about the XT. It's all about the brand.

GLINTON: Touche - the global economy may be more efficient, but it is kind of boring.


JIM CROCE: (Singing) He got a custom Continental. He got an El Dorado, too.

GLINTON: Sonari Glinton, NPR News.


CROCE: (Singing) He got a 32 gun in his pocket full a fun.

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