Paul Roberts writes from London: Holidaying in Dubai recently, I made the mistake of renting a car. This is completely unnecessary in a city with an efficient, spotless metro system and an abundance of clean and cheap taxis, not to mention a general driving standard that can best be described as challenging. But, well, we live and learn.
My mistake was compounded by the fact that I ended up driving around in a Nissan Tiida, a bargain basement ‘Group A’ special with styling presumably signed off by a secret Toyota spy. It also had a wheezing, asthmatic engine and an automatic gearbox that was still making up its mind which gear to try three days after I returned it to boot. Oh, and a boot. That was the best bit because it was big enough for me to hide in after people saw me driving it.
No, I had no idea what Tiida meant either but I’ve just looked it up on the internet and apparently it’s Japanese for ‘the ever-changing tide’. This may well be an evocative and effective badge in Japan but anywhere else in the world it just looks like a spelling mistake and reminds people that they need to pick up some rice for dinner.
Nissan has an impressive track record of giving its cars rubbish names. Really, did they ever think anyone was going to buy a car called a Cedric? ‘Hey Brian, come over and see my new Cedric!’ ‘Er, no, not unless you’ve bought someone’s Grandad’.
But Nissan aren’t alone in needing a new Head of Names. Rivals Toyota had to re-name their nifty 1980s two-seater, the MR2, in France. (Try saying that en français.)
In fact, the Japanese are experts at this. Dubai is full of huge SUVs – well, with all the speed bumps you need serious off-road capability – and many of them bear the name ‘Pajero’. This Mitsubishi monster sounds inoffensive, even impressive, unless you speak Spanish, in which case you’ll know that its name refers to a man who, how can I put this, enjoys the pleasure of his own company. (This explains why it’s a Montero or Shogun in many countries.)
This leads me nicely on to Ford, which in the 1980s had long since recovered from the marketing mess of naming one of its cars after Henry Ford’s son and former chairman, Edsel, and had instead taken to borrowing names from pornographic magazines for its UK, erm, models. Thus, British drivers were happily popping off to the shops in Escorts, Fiestas and Big Ones Monthlies and all was well with the world – until, that is, someone thought: ‘Let’s make a coupé called the Probe!’ Oh dear.
Back to Dubai, where, had I upgraded my hire car, I could have got lost and crashed into other people on the Sheikh Zayed Road in a Renault Fluence. I can see what they were trying to do here – affluence or fluidity, maybe – but I’m just getting sewage.
Yes, there’s a rich history of stinkers when it comes to car names. The answer, rather obviously, is for car companies to stick to numbers. The trouble is, Ford would probably go for a 69.