Why do automotive naming conventions suck?
Patrick Jackson and I were having a conversation this morning about naming conventions on cars, and we both agreed very few seem to get it right
I went to a McDonald's drive-thru the other day. I went up to the order speaker, asked the nice 16-year-old who is resigned to the fact that she needs a job dealing with idiots all day and asked for a large Big Mac meal. She happily replied with the price and instructions to drive to the next window. In fact, every time I order at a drive-thru I think, this can go so wrong in so many ways and yet it doesn't, it just works. It's because the McDonald's product naming conventions are simple and uncomplicated. You ask for a burger, whether you want a meal, what size that meal is, and then what sort of drink you want with that meal.
McDonald's also does a really good job of coaching their customers about their product names and what each product entails. If you ever watch their advertising on TV or online you'll see that many of their creative follows unspoken rules. For example, if you create a burger with pineapple in it you give it a tropical naming convention and have the advertising set on a beach with palm trees. It's a simple change to the burger but it associates it for the customer with something easy to remember.
Patrick Jackson and I had a discussion this morning which proved that automotive manufacturers do not understand this correctly. They just don't. The product teams who specify cars and models could not describe their target demographic to save their lives. And it's obvious by the naming conventions that they use.
Let's use number 1 on my sh*t list as an example, Audi. Audi's new naming conventions are a complete nightmare. And I'm going to prove it. Without Googling what they mean, in the comments here tell me first what the numbers (30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 60 and 70) mean and then what any further monikers after those letters mean. Just as a footnote: I know what they mean, however almost every customer who walks through the front door of an Audi dealership does not. And they struggle to differentiate those numbers from the models.
For example, the top of the range Audi Q8 at the moment is not just called the Audi Q8. It's called the Audi Q8 55TFSI quattro tiptronic, right? Wrong. It's actually called the Audi RSQ8 and while it fits multiple monikers and numbers in those naming conventions it doesn't get any of them for some strange reason.
Mercedes is just as bad. I cannot for the love of me decipher what in gods name the CLS350 for example means, moniker and number by moniker and number. And then you have the Bluetec engine and the 4Matic and fuel type monikers as well, all which add more and more confusing things to a name which means absolutely nothing to the customer. So by the time you're done and your customer drives his or her new car to a dinner party and gets asked "what's your new car?". They don't answer the Mercedes CLS350 4Matic. No, they just answer "I got a Mercedes".
But then there are brands on earth who do get it. I'm going to mention three specific brands all who completely get the idea of a naming convention. And we're going to start with BMW. The BMW 3 series for example has 3 current models in the lineup. The 320d, the 330i, and the M340i. And funnily enough, that's all you need to say. Instantly most who have bought a car before know that the d means diesel and the i means petrol. And the 3 models directly correlate to the level of specification the car has. So when someone asks you what your new car is you can say I bought a new BMW 330i and know safely that whoever is asking knows it's a 3 series and knows it's a mid-high range spec. They don't need to know exactly what the numbers mean they just know that the higher they are, the better the car.
Volvo is the same. Their model lineup in fact is the most superb out of all prestige brands. T for petrol, D for diesel. And normally there are three of each: T3, T4, T5 and the D3, D4 and D5. How bloody simple is that? Higher the number the better the car. You don't even need to mention whether the car is a Polestar or what trim it has, because it honestly doesn't matter. The trim only slightly changes the look of the car, it won't change what that car has standard.
The final and an often overlooked example is Subaru. Subaru have got naming conventions down to an absolute T. Standard trim on any vehicle gets no moniker at all, the high end is called a premium and if the car is a hybrid, guess what it gets called (hint: it stands with h and ends with ybrid)? That's almost brain numbingly easy compared to Subaru's competitor Mazda. Who persist with the letter/number combination of (for example) G20 and G25 and do not actually put their model numbers on the car (meaning you're left scratching your head as towards whether the car is a diesel or a petrol when you roll up to a fuel station).
Automotive manufacturers, if you're reading this, tonight when you go home from work and you call the wife and she asks "what's for dinner?" tell her you're getting McDonald's. Then once you go through the drive-thru and figure out just how easy it is to remember what you want to order prior to seeing their ultra-sized Vegas-style screens, maybe go home and think. Think about how you can stop being such muppets and name your cars simply so that Joe-blo can walk into a showroom and without any confusion at all proclaim, "I want a BMW 330i please".