BMW M6 Gran Coupe

Names of luxury cars

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.

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