Electric Car Names: Can They Make a Big Difference?

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Car names have always been an important part of the mobility mystique, but does the same hold true for electric cars? Fodder for songs: “Little Red Corvette” by Prince, “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers, and “Red Barchetta” by Rush, just to name a few. One could argue that a good name sets the stage for a good overall experience and an important emotional connection.

So, when it comes to electric vehicle names, you would think that the same amount of time and thought would go into getting that (often first impression) just right.

Back in 1990, GM chairman Roger Smith demonstrated the company’s brand new electric concept car, the Impact. Calling a car the Impact can have a great connotation, but typically, minds immediately go to the more negative one. Indeed, who wants to be in a car called the Impact?

Legend has it that when talk show host Jay Leno did a demo drive, he desperately wanted to buy one. When he was told he could only lease the car (that was still called the Impact at the time), he got mad and took a swipe at the car’s name by saying, “was crash-and-burn already taken?”

GM EV1, originally called the Impact. Image courtesy of GM.

The Impact name was changed to EV1, and the car became a vehicle that early adopters fell in love with (and later would be memorialized at a mock funeral, crushed, and documented in a full-length feature film).

On the heels of those early electric cars being destroyed, Nissan came out with the LEAF and Chevy came out with the Volt plug-in hybrid (aka extended-range electric vehicle).

Image courtesy of Cynthia Shahan, CleanTechnica.

As names go, you could argue that LEAF is close to perfect for those jumping onto the EV bandwagon at the time. The vast majority of early EV buyers were very interested in making the switch to help the environment, so what better and more organic name than LEAF? Leaves represent cleaning up the air in both literal and figurative ways. But it’s not so simple. If you noticed the all-caps nature of the name, Nissan actually made the LEAF an acronym (and not a great one at that). The letters stand for Leading, Environmentally-friendly, Affordable Family car.

BMW i3 and Chevy Volt. Photos by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica.

The Chevy Volt is a good name in that it specifically points to the electric nature of the vehicle. But when in 2017 Chevy came out with the all-electric Bolt, it left many scratching their heads. Why on earth would they come out with names that were so similar? In fact, in Korean, the names Bolt and Volt are pronounced the same way — leading to even more confusion.  

Image courtesy of Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica.

Tesla has taken a seemingly simpler tact in naming its vehicles. The Roadster was just that, a roadster. The Model S stands for sedan; Model X is a luxury crossover. The Model 3 was intended to be the Model E, but then Ford stepped in and pointed out that they hold that trademark, and the Model Y completed the lineup so that Elon Musk could have his fun (placed in the right order, all production models after the Roadster spell out S3XY, or SEXY for the uninitiated). Okay, extra points for fun.

With Tesla, there were extra letters and numbers, such as P85, which would indicate Performance model with an 85-kilowatt hour battery, but those were later taken away in order to simplify. Now you get your Tesla in standard range or long range with all-wheel-drive, which is much more appealing to the general public. And with an eye towards the future, Tesla made no bones about its interest in a top-to-bottom truck design refresh with the polarizing Cybertruck. No matter what you think about the Cybertruck design, the name is cool as hell.

Ford Mustang Mach-E. Photo by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica.

Many vehicle manufactures are tying their electric cars’ names to tried-and-true brands. For example, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Ford F-150 Lightning EV, the Chevy Silverado EV, the Chevy Bronco EV — well, you get the idea. Perhaps the legacy automakers are hedging their bets and keeping their feet firmly planted in the ICE world while dipping a tow in the EV waters?

Kia EV6. Image courtesy of Kia.

For the names of new, fully electric cars, there are some interesting ones. Kia EV6 is nice and simple (and a compelling EV in my opinion), Hyundai Ioniq 5 is also a winner. According to Hyundai, the name Ioniq is a portmanteau of ion and unique. Then there is the Volkswagen ID. line, and the ID. part stands for intelligent design, identity, and visionary technologies (that corporate meeting must have been interesting). And the Volkswagen ID. Buzz — well, with its VW Van hippie roots, you can imagine why they called it the Buzz.

Fisker Ocean Header Image Large
Image courtesy of Fisker.

Fisker is coming into the fray soon with its first offering, the Fisker Ocean, which takes its name from the fact that Ocean waste is captured and reused in materials that are used in the vehicle. The upcoming Fisker PEAR, which stands for Personal Electric Automotive Revolution, is expected to be an under-$30,000 vehicle. Not much is known about the PEAR, which is supposed to go on sale in 2024, but it is supposed to be ultra modern and look different than anything else on the market. Well, the fruit name worked out pretty well for Apple, so time will tell.

But then there is the unfortunate 2023 Toyota bZ4X. OK, really, is Toyota even trying with this whole electric cars thing?  

So, there you have it. I wonder if the next multiplatinum hit song will be called “Let’s Flex Toyota bZ4X.” I seriously doubt it. 

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Stuart Unger

Stuart Ungar has been interested in how technology can help us live lighter on the Earth for most of his life and remembers going on solar house tours as a kid in the ‘70s with his dad (and having to travel many miles to see each site). Stuart is the co-founder of Evolve KY, Kentucky’s non-profit electric vehicle group and has a brand new podcast — Stu’s EV Universe, which can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other major platforms. Stuart lives with his wife and college-age kids in Louisville, Kentucky.

Stuart Unger has 16 posts and counting. See all posts by Stuart Unger