Editor/Reporter - CheersandGears.com
March 21, 2012
Toyota Camry. Honda Accord.
Since 1982 and 1976 respectively, these two models have evolved and changed with the times, without enduring a name change. Similar history can be traced for such entries as the Honda Odyssey. The first one wasn't much about which to write, but Honda persevered with the name and developed it into a top seller in its segment.
While some examples of continuous monickers don't celebrate similar history, the names have stuck. For instance, the Nissan Quest, first available in 1993 (with a re-badge model sold as the Mercury Villager), is today in its fourth generation even though none of the variations have particularly resonated with buyers.
Yet, American manufacturers have a knack for giving us a plethora of different names for virtually the same model. GM, Ford and Chrysler do this, perhaps too well.
One glaring group from GM's portfolio is the Malibu/Celebrity/Lumina/monte carlo/impala debacle. The front-wheel drive Celebrity, which replaced the last-ever rear-wheel drive Malibu, evolved into the first-generation front-wheel drive Lumina coupe and sedan for 1990. When the Lumina's second generation debuted in 1995, the sedan stuck with the Lumina monicker, while the front-wheel drive coupe shockingly became the monte carlo, through the 2007 model year. When the third-generation Lumina redesign came for the 2000 model year, the monte carlo coupe donned design cues from the original rear-wheel drive Monte Carlos, 1970-1988, and the sedan switched from the Lumina nameplate to a front-wheel drive version of the all-too-familiar impala name, which continues today.
Speaking of the Impala, for its original rear-wheel drive run, GM saw fit to keep that name continuously 1958-1985. It's sister, Caprice, was also used unchanged, 1965-1996. The Caprice, though, was originally an Impala luxury trim package. The two siblings ran concurrently 1965-1985, when the Impala was dropped in favor of the Caprice nameplate. After the Caprice redesign in 1991, GM delivered an SS model of the Caprice, dubbed Impala. The Caprice/Impala SS were then dropped entirely after 1996. Unlike the Impala, Monte Carlo, Malibu and Nova nameplates, the Caprice, Corvette and Camaro have never been front-wheel drive vehicles...so far.
For further confusion, today's front-wheel drive Malibu holds its portion of the segment that once included the original rear-wheel drive Nova, front-wheel drive Citation and front-wheel drive Corsica. Other GM flip-flops include the Cavalier, Cobalt and Cruze trio; the LUV, S-10 and Colorado triad; the Metro, Aveo and Sonic combo; the Lumina APV, Venture and Uplander series; and the revived front-wheel drive nova and Prizm duo, which were GM versions of the venerable Toyota Corolla.
Other GM branches (GMC, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac) have similar name changers, including the GMC S-15, Sonoma and Canyon. Interestingly, some models did not go through the complete name transformation. For instance, when the Lumina APV was renamed Venture, the Oldsmobile mini van remained Silhouette. The cousins to the original 1970-1988 Monte Carlo (Buick Regal, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and Pontiac Grand Prix) all debuted on front-wheel drive cars immediately after the rear-wheel drive versions were axed.
Further head-scratching examples include siblings of the original Nova turned Citation. For instance, the Omega was Oldsmobile's version of the Nova, 1973-1979, but remained in 1980 as the nameplate for Oldsmobile's version of the Nova-replacing Citation. When the Citation gave way to the Corsica, the Omega was replaced by the Calais. Want to be further amused? The Nova's Pontiac sibling was originally named Ventura, then switched to Phoenix in 1977 and remained Phoenix through the switch to front-wheel drive in 1980, before being replaced in 1985 with a new front-wheel drive Grand Am, which earlier had been a sibling to the original Malibu/Chevelle line. Buick doesn't escape unscathed. The Apollo debuted in 1973. In 1975, the Skylark name returned on Buick's version of the Nova, but only on the 2-door versions. The 4-door version remained Apollo for 1975. A year later, the Apollo was gone, and Nova's Buick sibling was the Skylark, which lasted through the front-wheel drive switch in 1980 and remained as a sibling to the Grand Am through 1998.
GM has plenty of company in this nonsense.
Ford gave us the Falcon, Maverick, Fairmont, Tempo, Contour and Fusion family; the Aerostar, Windstar and Freestar triad; and the Pinto, Escort and Focus trio. These owe the last monicker to Ford's move to rename their cars so that each started with the letter "F", with the obvious exceptions of the Mustang and Crown Victoria. Arguably, though, the Fusion has more brand equity than any of its predecessors, thanks in part to global branding and its use in NASCAR. Mercury received a similar fate, with examples such as the Villager/Monterey and Sable/Montego.
Back to the Fairmont/Tempo, Ford expected buyers of the Fairmont to turn to the new mid-size LTD rather than the Tempo, which is generally cited as the Fairmont successor. The Tempo was basically a new slot for Ford, set between the Escort and the LTD. The new LTD, though, is credited for replacing the Granada. What was the successor for that mid-size LTD? None other than the Taurus, which then returned to replace the Five Hundred in the late 2000s.
Regarding the Crown Victoria nameplate and the mid-1980s mid-sized LTD, the Crown Victoria (and its sibling Mercury Grand Marquis) lasted 20 years. But, previous models were dubbed LTD and LTD Crown Victoria. The "Crown Victoria" was needed, in part, to distinguish it from the mid-size vehicle that featured the same LTD monicker.
And, let's not forget the iconic Thunderbird. This name stuck around for a long time, but on a variety of vehicles. It began as a 2-seat coupe in response to the Corvette, and it ended in similar 2-seater fashion. But, in between, the Thunderbird took on various forms, including a sedan. It eventually became the Monte Carlo's main nemesis during the Monte Carlo's original 1970-1988 run.
Have a headache yet?
Dodge has also ventured in the sport, with the Dart, Aspen, Aries, Lancer, Spirit, Stratus (sedan), Avenger (coupe), Stratus (coupe) and Avenger (sedan) revolving door. In the case of those last four, the name change came with nothing more than a refresh of the previous car. Dodge compact cars have their own revolving door running from Omni to Shadow to Neon to Caliber and then to Dart (see above). The full-size Monaco was renamed St Regis, then Diplomat. The Monaco nameplate returned on a rebadge of AMC/Renault. This front-wheel drive version led to the front-wheel drive Intrepid before Daimler dodged in to deliver the rear-wheel drive Charger.
The Charger name itself has had various reincarnations, including the mid-size rear-wheel drive coupe best known as the General Lee and the compact-size, K-car based, front-wheel drive cars of the mid-1980s. The original Charger was renamed Magnum for a brief 2 year stint ('78 and '79) before being renamed Mirada. Yet, the Charger's Chrysler cousin, the Cordoba, did not go through a name change during its 1975-1983 run. From 1975-1979, the Cordoba (and its Dodge counterparts), had a different kind of identity crisis, swiping design cues from the 1973-1977 Monte Carlo.
To Dodge's credit, another name that didn't stray from the fold was the Dodge Caravan (and its variants and siblings). The Caravan bowed in 1984 and is still in production today, in the midst of its fifth generation, as is the Chrysler Town & Country (and a variant Chrysler Voyager). The only minivan name no longer in production is the Plymouth Voyager, but that's only because Plymouth has since disappeared from the scene altogether.
So, why so many names?
Maybe the manufacturers utilize the multi-name strategy to confuse us, partly to make more money. An obvious example of this is the tail end of the aforementioned Malibu/Celebrity/Lumina/monte carlo/impala lineage. When the Lumina debuted in NASCAR, many people thought that the Lumina replaced the Monte Carlo, and GM did nothing to correct that perception, believing the truth would hurt sales of the new Lumina. But, evidence indicates the Lumina replaced the Celebrity. According to the book Chevrolet: The Complete History [copyright 1996, Publications International LTD], on page 348: "With the new Lumina coupe and sedan effectively replacing their Celebrity counterparts...." And, on page 359: "Taking the place of the aging Celebrity sedan was the Lumina sedan ... a coupe version followed in the fall." Further evidence is in the models (Eurosport) and design features (flat/horizontal dashboard; 3 square/horizontal taillights on each side; front-wheel drive) the Lumina shared with the outgoing Celebrity.
Further complicating things, the monte carlo raced back to NASCAR when the nameplate returned to replace the Lumina coupe in 1995. This switch, along with the Lumina sedan becoming the impala five years later [as well as the return of the nova nameplate in the 1980s and the malibu nameplate in the 1990s], was designed to bring back consumers (make more money) by evoking nostalgia with well-known heritage nameplates. In fact, the 2000 impala dealer brochure featured an image of an older Impala set along a stretch of 2-lane road with a "US 66" sign, designed to elicit memories of the original Impalas and Route 66. When the monte carlo was dropped after the 2007 model year, the impala sedan sped into NASCAR. Now, GM has promised, in its own recent press release, "a new nameplate to the brand's lineup" will replace the NASCAR impala in 2013. So, if GM is true to its word, it will not be the Camaro, Caprice, Chevelle or even Monte Carlo, since all of those are old nameplates to the brand.
Maybe manufacturers use so many names hoping a name change will breathe new life (in terms of sales/recognition) into a particular model/segment. In some cases, they have. One fine example is the aforementioned Fusion. This new nameplate replaced an old nameplate (Contour) that had a certain stigma to it. The Fusion then raced to new heights its predecessors never touched, thanks, in part, to its NASCAR usage. Other examples of warranted name changes include the Aveo to Sonic and the Pinto (which burned out) to Escort (which wore out), eventually to Focus.
Whatever the reasons, the cost of such name changes are probably more than we can imagine. After all, with a name change comes paying someone (or people?) to create the name. Then, the company has to spend money to publicize and market that new name. Branding is big business.
Yet, while GM, Ford and Dodge spew out different names every few years for the same model segment vehicle (with a few notable exceptions), Toyota and Honda seem to do just fine, without the abrupt and confusing name changes. Toyota and Honda don't need the smoke and mirrors of introducing a new name every few years, thanks to the perceived higher quality. Even when the quality isn't quite there, Honda and Toyota are able to move ahead with the same name because of the esteem of the brand (the Honda Odyssey referred to earlier is a premier example). Love them or hate them, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have become legendary for their longevity in the marketplace and "growing up" with their buyers.
To GM's credit, one nameplate has lasted longer than even the Camry and Accord: Suburban.