A car’s name is supposed to evoke respect as well as engender consumer interest in a product, but sometimes manufacturers choose an identity that does just the opposite. In some instances the car’s name may simply be a cultural mistake, what sounds right in the native tongue, but translates badly elsewhere.
We can’t always say for certain why a manufacturer would choose a particular (bad) name, but we can identify some of the worst car names of all times and the history behind those models.
1. Daihatsu Charade — Do you remember Daihatsu? If you don’t, no worries. This tiny Japanese automaker sold cars in the US briefly during the 1990s before pulling out of the market. One such model was the Charade, a compact car. Merriam-Webster defines charade as, “something that is done in order to pretend something is true when it is not really true.”
In this example, Daihatsu pretended to offer a competitive model, but customers found that the joke was on the manufacturer and never gave its products much love. After its US exit, Toyota took advantage of its controlling interest in Daihatsu to have the company supply it with various Scion cars for the US market.
2. Studebaker Dictator — Studebaker was one of the earliest US car manufacturers. In fact, it got started as a wagon manufacturer in 1852 before producing its first automobiles in 1897. In 1927, the company released the unfortunately named Studebaker Dictator. The automaker chose the term because it believed this model line composed of coupes and sedans “dictated the standard” for the industry.
What it caused was much angst, especially in European markets where Mussolini and later Hitler came to power. Studebaker began marketing the car as the “Director” in some countries, before canceling the name abruptly in 1937 as Europe was heading toward war.
3. Buick LaCrosse — In the US, the name “Buick LaCrosse” is acceptable. It may not have a formal meaning, although if it was written as Lacrosse, then everyone would know that it referenced the sport. But LaCrosse has another meaning, something French Canadians correlate with self gratification.
Yes, GM didn’t discover that odd play on the product’s name until after the fact, so the sedan was introduced as the Allure in Canada. However, GM later switched back to the LaCrosse moniker, using a new marketing campaign to demonstrate to Quebecois that they had the sport in mind and not something customers might deem inappropriate.
4. Dodge Dart Swinger — The Dodge Dart name has been revived, but a sub-model nickname that suggested promiscuity was not brought back this time. And for a good reason too.
Indeed, in the late 1960s when people began to experiment with “free love” in earnest, the “Swinger” appellation was ascribed to the hard top version of the Dodge Dart coupe. No one knows for sure why Dodge’s parent, the Chrysler Corporation chose the lively name, but it is certain that amongst certain mavericks it invited not a few winks and nods.
5. Volkswagen Thing — One of the oddest vehicles ever built was the Volkswagen Type 181. It was classified as a military vehicle, a four-door convertible that shared its mechanical underpinnings with the Volkswagen Beetle and Bus. When this vehicle was offered in the US, it was called the Volkswagen Thing.
The moniker wasn’t entirely inappropriate as the Thing defied easy description and categorization. Perhaps the lack of a coherent reason for the vehicle is why it was pulled from the US market in 1974, just two years after it was introduced.
6. Mitsubishi Minica Lettuce — One of the longest running and smallest models produced by Mitsubishi was the Minica, a “kei” or city car introduced in 1962 and cancelled nearly six decades later after eight generational changes. Available as a coupe, sedan or a wagon, it wasn’t until the sixth generation was introduced that a special name was ascribed to a new model and thus the Minica Lettuce was born.
That hatchback model with two doors on the passenger side and one door on the driver’s side was certainly different — perhaps it was for that reason marketers thought that “Lettuce” was a clever name too. Well, customers didn’t understand the salad connotation and four years later the new generation Minica was changed by Mitsubishi from “Lettuce” to “Toppo.” Whatever that means!
7. Honda That’s — Another kei car with a strange name was the Honda That’s. Perhaps inspired by the Volkswagen Thing, the diminutive Honda was a five-door “tall wagon” hatchback, an odd design at *that* — yes, you can see where this is going.
Introduced in 2002 and in production through 2006, the “That’s” name was revived the following year, then dropped. That’s all folks!
8. Volkswagen Touareg — What the heck is a Touareg anyway? We know that Tiguan is a cross between the German words for “tiger” and “iguana,” but Touareg seems a bit more mysterious.
Well, it turns out that the vehicle was named for the Berber speaking people of North Africa, as Volkswagen admired the people’s strength and adaptability. These are a semi nomadic people whose economy is based on “breeding livestock, agriculture, and trade,” according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. It is also one of the hardest pronounced car names for English-speaking folk.
Best of the Worst
There are several other worst car names that did not make our list. These include the Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard, Mazda Scrum Truck, Renault Wind, Ford Probe, and the Mazda Laputa.
Oh, as for La Puta, that translates to “the prostitute” in Spanish. Ouch!
See Also — 5 Models at Death’s Door