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New Era Requires New Heroes: How Automakers Choose Names for Electric Vehicles

A name can create a car or destroy it. Recognizable names such as Defender, Land Cruiser, or Cayenne live on for decades. Conversely, many brands struggle with alphanumeric designations, such as XT5 and QX55. This phenomenon has only been exacerbated with the advent of electric vehicles because automakers needed to somehow distinguish them from already existing models of a similar size with an internal combustion engine, like RAM 1500 BEV.

Some have succeeded in branding EVs and separating them from ICE vehicles while retaining recognizability. Others have completely failed the task, confusing everything so much that customers have to spend hours hanging out on manufacturers’ websites to understand and remember who is who. The Indy Auto Man car experts collected a few of those who, in their opinion, have achieved the best and worst results. 

General Motors – Names that are easy to remember

General Motors is perhaps the most meticulous about the naming scheme, and not only the Bolt, a completely new model, but Chevrolet’s entire electric lineup will be one hundred percent recognizable. The company has already announced electric versions of the Silverado, Equinox, and Blazer, which will simply be marked with the letters EV. The same is true for GMC, with the Sierra 1500 EV and electric Hummer sub-brand.

As for Cadillac, they are trying to use the transition to electric vehicles as an excuse to abandon its boring alphanumeric naming scheme. The impressive Lyriq has recently arrived, followed by the Optiq, Ascendiq, Symboliq, Vistiq, Celestiq, etc. And Buick is rumored to revive the Electra name as a series of electric vehicles.

Tesla – Strange S3XY.

Tesla’s lineup is not hard to remember, as it currently has only four cars. Model S is a sedan, and Model X is a crossover, often referred to by this letter. Elon Musk wanted the Model 3 to be called Model E, and the line would spell out the word SEXY (after the release of Model Y). But since Ford owns the Model E name rights, Tesla has to settle for S3XY, where 3 looks like as reverse E.

Musk wanted to take another crazy step and expand the lineup so that it read like CARS S3XY, so there were C – Cybertruck, A – ATV (used at the Cybertruck presentation), R – Roadster, and S – Semi (electric truck). In general, there is logic in the names of Tesla – they are easy to remember and are mainly designed for the future, although customers do not seem to get some models soon.

Ford – Courage is rewarded

Ford may not have a logical naming scheme for electric vehicles, but that doesn’t seem to worry the company too much. The blue oval made a bold step and electrified two most popular models: the F-150 and the Mustang. Enthusiasts were furious, especially when the Mustang Mach-E, an electric crossover that uses the iconic name, debuted. But despite the dissatisfaction of the fans, it paid huge dividends for Ford, setting the Mach-E apart from competitors with unmemorable names (such as the Volkswagen ID.4). The same is true for the F-150 Lightning, which uses the name of the most powerful F-150 in history, which is great for a mighty electric truck. 

BMW – Easy transition

Of all the brands on this list, BMW has taken the easiest route by adding a lowercase i to existing and well-known names. So the BMW 7 Series became the BMW i7, the 4 Series became the i4, and so on. Clear and easy to remember. The only exception is the iX, which doesn’t have a petrol equivalent, so it got a one-time pass. But even BMW’s solution cannot be called ideal. Starting with the i3 and i8, which didn’t become the electric equivalents of the petrol 3 and 8 series, BMW may have problems with nameplate confusion going forward (BMW has the i3 sedan, 3-Series, but only sold in China). There is also the question of what will happen when BMW becomes an all-electric company. Why would i4 and 4-series be needed if they are all electric anyway? Experts assume that in this situation, the German automaker will return to the old names by simply abandoning the letter i.

Mercedes-Benz – SUV problems

Like BMW, Mercedes has decided that the best way to make its electric cars stand out is to put a few letters before the old names. Like in the case of Mercedes EQ. It makes sense that the E-Class becomes the EQE and the S-Class becomes the EQS, although ICE and electric cars are not identical. The circuit becomes confusing when different body types appear. Electric models such as the EQE and EQS are offered in sedan and SUV versions, and only the words “sedan” and “SUV” help distinguish them. At the same time, for the EQB (based on the GLB with a gasoline engine), which does not have an equivalent in the form of a sedan, no additional words are needed. It’s confusing. Thankfully, the EQ is temporary and will be phased out by Mercedes when the lineup goes all-electric.

AUDI – No limit to perfection

Audi began branding its hybrid and electric models with the e-tron brand in 2009, which created some confusion in later years. For example, the A3 e-tron was a plug-in hybrid, and current PHEV models do not receive the e-Tron nameplate. Things got even stranger when the AUDI e-tron came out in 2018. Unlike every other Audi SUV, it didn’t have a Q and dropped out of the lineup. Most connoisseurs were confident that AUDI would eventually change the name, and the company recently updated the car and renamed it the Q8 e-tron. It is directly related to the Q8 model, but at least the two vehicles are close in size and price. As a result, electric cars have perfectly joined the brand’s lineup: the Q4 e-tron is larger than the Q3 but smaller than the Q5, and the e-tron GT is generally on the sidelines. Future models like the A6 e-tron will neatly fit into the naming scheme before AUDI drops the e-tron name when the lineup goes all-electric.