If automakers thought it was hard to come up with a catchy new car name a generation ago, their outlook now is hopeless to impossible.
The sticky truth? As auto marketing becomes increasingly global, there are simply fewer words to call a car that are legally available around the world and work in multiple cultures.
That is why the industry is trending toward a new vehicle-naming strategy: Keep the old names as long as possible. Use common names around the world instead of looking for multiple names. Use numbers instead of words. And if necessary, bring a golden oldie out of the company vault.
"It's tough," concedes Russ Clark, director of marketing for General Motors' Chevrolet brand. "In 1985 there were about 75,000 names trademarked in the automotive space. Today there are 800,000."
This year Chevrolet has been spending millions to market a portfolio of newly named products -- the Sonic, Spark and Cruze -- conveying GM's message that the storied brand is refreshed and renewed after a decade of market-share doldrums.
And it appears to be working. Sales of Chevrolet small cars and compacts are up 26 percent from last year and 44 percent higher than five years ago.
But sometimes there is simply nothing like an old name.
Last year Chrysler Group introduced a mid-sized sedan called the Dodge Dart, a name Chrysler used in the happy-go-lucky days of the 1960s, before the Japanese imports dominated the family sedan business.
Nissan Motor Co. has just begun reintroducing its long-shelved brand name "Datsun" in some emerging markets, including Indonesia and India. Nissan spent untold millions getting rid of the Datsun name in the United States in the 1980s in an effort to commonize its operations under a single corporate identity.
And then there's the case of the Chevrolet Impala.
Despite wooing U.S. consumers with its refreshed portfolio of new names, Chevrolet introduced its new-generation 2014 full-sized sedan as the Impala -- the same name it has marketed without interruption since 1957.
"We surveyed buyers and intenders about their awareness and opinion of the Impala name prior to naming the new one," Clark says. "And the consumer impressions of the name were the best in the segment."
"It's getting harder to find names that mean anything. You know what an Impala is. It's an animal. It's fast and graceful. It's a good name."
But by embracing the heritage of the old name, Chevrolet is basically successfully pursuing two opposing naming strategies simultaneously, observes Jeff Schuster, senior vice president at the industry forecasting firm LMC Automotive.
"The new names of the small cars communicate a break with the past, where Chevrolet wasn't so good at small cars," Schuster says. "They could have easily also changed the Impala name for the same reason, since not all of the past generations of that nameplate have been particularly good. ... But what Chevy is communicating this time is that this is the car's true heritage. They're saying, 'This is the real Impala that you know and expect from Chevrolet.'"