John K. Teahen Jr. is senior editor of Automotive News.
That's why I'm upset by a trend that is developing at General Motors. I suppose it's poor taste to stick another dart in GM's hide - the General has enough problems without this - but as that tough old gent from Missouri used to say, "If you can't stand the heat "
Let's start with Cadillac. John Smith and Mark LaNeve brought GM's prestige brand back to life, but they should be ashamed of what they have done to Cadillac's classic nomenclature in recent years.
Cadillac's names were distinguished. It was worth buying one of the cars just to have that badge in your driveway: DeVille, Calais (that was a while ago), Fleetwood, Seville, Biarritz, Eldorado.
About 15 years ago, Cadillac tacked an STS and SLS onto the Seville, for Special Touring Sedan and Special Luxury Sedan. Unnecessary, but the Seville tag was still there to identify the cars.
What are Cadillacs called today? Well, DTSSTSCTSSRXXLREXTESV. Can you pronounce it?
Gone but not forgotten: A 1967 Cadillac Eldorado
"We saw the DeVille associated with the antiquated, old Cadillac," LaNeve said this year at the Chicago Auto Show.
Hey, Mark: In 1978, General Manager Ed Kennard sold 350,813 of those antiquated old Cadillacs in the United States, and most of them were DeVilles. Last year, U.S. sales of Cadillacs totaled 234,217, including 92,269 SUVs.
Not even the Saabillac will have a real name. That's the Cadillac that Saab will build for sale in Europe. It will be the BLS.
The alphanumeric (or just plain alpha) system is of Japanese-German origin. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti and Acura don't have a single word name in their vehicle lineups - all initials or initials and numerals. It works for them, but I wish Cadillac would bring back its stately names.
Let's look at Pontiac. It used to be GM's performance division, and the car names bore that out: Grand Am, Grand Prix, Bonneville. You could almost smell the exhaust fumes.
Now, the Grand Am is on its last legs, and the Bonneville will be gone next fall. The Grand Prix soldiers on, but for how long?
The Grand Am's successor is the G6, which has not been a hot seller, although it had a good April. GM says the lag is because the G6 coupe is not yet on the market and the four-cylinder engine also will be a late arrival.
Will someone tell me why a car called the G6 has a four-cylinder engine?
Dropping the Bonneville label is an out-and-out crime. It arrived at Pontiac in the 1958 model year as a premium sport coupe (along with the Chevrolet Impala) and, like the Impala, became a regular series the following year. It has topped the Pontiac lineup since then.
Bonneville was named for the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah,
where racers risked life and limb to set the world land speed record. One was Sir Malcolm Campbell, whose sleek Bluebird reached the unbelievable speed of 301 mph on Sept. 3, 1935.
You read that right: 301 mph with a 1935 engine and 1935 technology - and Pontiac is letting it all slip away.
On the lighter side
The car-naming derby has produced some humorous stories. In the late 1950s, when Renault's Dauphine was making it big in this country, the French manufacturer decided to bring its sport coupe to the United States. Its name was Floride.
The plan was progressing nicely until Renault's California distributor got wind of it. He let out a roar that was heard in Paris. "How," he bellowed, "do you expect me to sell Californians a car named the Florida?"
He pulled a lot of weight. When the car arrived on these shores, it was called the Caravelle.
In the fall of 1963, Chevrolet introduced its first mid-sized car, the Chevelle. General Manager Bunkie Knudsen extolled its virtues until a newsman asked, "But what does 'Chevelle' mean?"
Knudsen didn't hesitate. "It doesn't mean anything," he said.
There were smiles and a few snickers from the audience.
"But we're going to make it mean something," Knudsen continued.
The smiles and the snickers ceased. Knudsen was right. The Chevelle became a big seller.