I was in Product Planning once upon a time and I will tell you something: It is hard work naming a vehicle. First of all, everyone has an opinion. And just like naming a child, everyone feels compelled to share their opinion about how they feel about the name. There is, after all, no wrong answer. Then there are those practical pitfalls which include the name already being registered (by another car company or another company in the transportation sector) or your chosen name meaning something negative in a foreign language — just to name a few. Like everything else in life, the simplest things can be the most complicated. It's no wonder car names have gone alphanumeric. We may not like it, but it undeniably makes things simpler. A good name is hard to find!
The names I find most interesting represent something. I remember an old Jerry Seinfeld routine in which he said the name of your car represents you. You have integrity if you drive an Integra, you're super if you drive a Supra, and you are impressive in your Impreza. I drove an Acura Integra at the time so I felt slightly gratified. The other popular convention is naming cars after places. Places are good, as they automatically conjure imagery and an identifiable character. Certainly I like being deemed an individual with integrity, but would I be more inclined to drive a car named after my home city of Santa Monica? Probably not. But my burning question is: are the cars named after places more popular in those places? Well, I took to the numbers to find the answers.
There are certainly images that the name "Malibu" conjures up in my mind: beaches, mansions, wildfires. A midsize Chevrolet sedan is not one of them. Of course, the Malibu nameplate has been around nearly forever embodying different vehicle forms, but in today's world, it is a sedan.
So, how popular is the Malibu in its namesake? The short answer won't surprise you: not very. A grand total of 16 Malibus are registered in the 'Bu. Given the small population and staggering income levels (the average listing price for Malibu homes for sale on Trulia was $5,340,020 for the week ending August 29), it's clearly not a place where pragmatic, midsize sedans thrive. In fact, there are 313% more Bentley Continentals registered in the coastline community than Chevy Malibus.
So, what vehicles reign supreme in Malibu?
OK, so the Malibu sedan isn't a hit in its namesake but if we were to name it by its place of popularity, what would it be called? It would be called the Swartz Creek. As in Swartz Creek, Michigan – a town not too far from Flint. 4.3% of vehicles in operation in Swartz Creek are Chevrolet Malibus. I don’t know. Not only does Swartz Creek not have the same ring as Malibu but it's a lot of name to put in the badge. And try saying "Chevrolet Swartz Creek" five times.
This car should be a home run in its namesake. After all, there are more registered Ferraris in California than any other state in the union — 6,227 to be exact. There are so many here that the goods folks in Maranello must have decided it was time to name a full-fledged, core model after the Golden State, right?
Florida clearly has West Coast envy, as it not only has the highest number of Ferrari Californias registered, but also has the highest number of Ferrari Californias as a percentage of total vehicles registered in the state.
Florida makes sense. But what I find mind-blowing is that the great state of Montana has more Ferraris registered as a percent of all vehicles than California. California takes the bronze.
Apparently, the Golden State likes Ferrari, but not so much the California. Perhaps they should have called it the Ferrari Florida; at least it would have some alliteration.
Hyundai Santa Fe and Tucson
Clearly there is a love fest between Hyundai and the American Southwest, as two of the three SUVs the Korean carmaker sells have names in rooted in a land of cactus, desert, and turquoise jewelry. The third SUV, Veracruz gets its name from a state in Mexico. All places are very far from South Korea.
So, are the SUVs popular in the Southwest?
The results are mixed. The Tucson fares better in its namesake than Santa Fe, as it's the 18th most popular market for the vehicle. Santa Fe ranks #35 for its representative SUV. Fort Meyers, Florida seems like a more appropriate name for the brand as it's the top market for Santa Fe and fourth best market for the Tucson. Other top markets include Las Vegas, Syracuse, Providence (#1 for Tucson), Orlando, Tampa, and Albany.
My verdict? Like Swartz Creek, the Hyundai Fort Meyers is a mouthful.
And what about the rest of the field?
Below are their biggest markets (as a % of total vehicles registered) and their namesake market:
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Jessica Caldwell is the Senior Director of Pricing & Industry Analysis for Edmunds.com. Follow @jessrcaldwell on Twitter.