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Lincoln Is Proving That Car Names Can Still Work

For many years, it’s been considered a simple reality of the luxury car world that if you want your luxury cars to sell, they shouldn’t have a name. Instead, there should be some letters, and maybe some numbers, relevant to the car’s positioning in your overall lineup — but the most important name on the car was the brand name, not the model.

Many automakers have followed this strategy. Mercedes-Benz, of course, does not name its cars, instead going with “classes” of names — C-Class, E-Class, S-Class. BMW has always done the same: 7 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series. In the late 1990s, Audi caught on, ditching its incomprehensible naming scheme for an alphanumeric description: A4, A6, A8, and later SUVs named the Q7 and the Q5 — with “A” standing for “Audi” and “Q” for “Quattro.”

Johan de Nysschen, a higher-up at Audi who saw the success this name changed help bring about, launched similar change at Infiniti when he took over as the head of that brand: gone were old names like the G35, the FX35 and the JX35, and in their place all cars were “Q” something, while crossovers were “QX” something. The same thing happened when de Nysschen went to Cadillac: CTS, DTS and SRX were ditched, in favor of alphanumeric combinations that explained where each car fell in each brand’s lineup — CT6, XT5, etc. These brands were using letters and numbers, not names, before de Nysschen arrived, but he streamlined these names even further, in Audi’s tradition.

But then, in the last few years, Lincoln has come along. The luxury brand has led its revival with the new Navigator SUV and the Continental sedan, and it appears Lincoln is going with a strategy of names, rather than numbers and letters, to distinguish its vehicles. The Lincoln Aviator is the new 3-row SUV. The MKX became the Lincoln Nautilus. The MKC will supposedly be renamed the Lincoln Corsair when it’s redesigned in a few years.

It seems Lincoln is trying the opposite of the strategy that worked for Audi, and which everyone else has since followed. Now that everyone is using letters and numbers, Lincoln must figure actual names will distinguish vehicles more than an alphanumeric soup that people seem to have trouble remembering. And so, the Lincoln names are arriving.

More importantly, people are responding to them. I still don’t quite understand why Cadillac has both the CT6 and the CTS, and I’m not sure why the Infiniti QX60 is larger than the QX70, even though its number is smaller — it doesn’t make much sense. But I know exactly what a “Lincoln Continental” is — and many others do, too, as its name is helping it stand out in a crowded field of confused letter-and-number-combination vehicles. Lincoln is using names, and it seems to be working — and it’s certainly going against the grain.

And so, as the luxury car world is populated with the NX200t, the GLS450, the CT6, the A8, the M760i, the QX80 and on and on and on, Lincoln’s car names are a refreshing change — and they give the brand a fresh new image, as opposed to a “me, too” luxury car company trying to copy the letter-and-number naming conventions started by rivals years ago.

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  1. If one delves deeper into Lincolns naming scheme, some curious generalizations emerge. First the old nameplates: the Continental, the Navigator and the Aviator. Followed by the maritime-themed names Nautilus and Corsair. I just hope a Zephyr is somewhere in plans too.

    In any case, Lincoln is slowly and quietly pulling off a brand revamp, which Cadillac has failed to do, because they keep changing their vision too often. First was the Continental, a solid upper mid-range luxury which offered a historic nameplate and styling which echoes Art Deco as much as it echoes a vision of timeless future in which “V8” and “engine displacement” take a back seat compared to the idea of contemporary refinement. Followed by Navigator, which walks a similar path and is a full-fledged flagship luxury vehicle, despite being related to the Expedition. Let’s be honest, it has worked really hard to get away from any Expedition-ness. It has now become THE car brand i am rooting for. I can’t wait what they come up with next. I hope for a halo car, but i’d even take a compact SUV in their current design language.

    • I think the Zephyr nameplate can be used on the redesigned MKZ. Though Ford is announcing to kill off all their cars, I do think that Lincoln will be spared and they can put that nameplate on there. 

  2. Love the names instead of numbers and letters, but maybe not for everyone.  BMW & MB could probably stick with their current and historical combo of each, but names at Lincoln just fit.  I used to like Acura’s names like Integra and Legend, and never understood the migration of EVERYONE over to just letters and numbers.  Sometimes the same shoe doesn’t fit everyone.

    • For Acura it was a bad choice IMHO, They had recognized names that everyone loved and alpha numeric codes aren’t very memorable in most cases with few exceptions such as the GT3000 perhaps in JDM lore.

  3. So what should Cadillac do? Rename their current cars to more historic names.. Fleetwood, Calias, Sedan DeVille, I’m not sure those names bring back great memories. More likely going back farther and would sound better than a CTS or XT4 would be something like Type 355 or Series 59. I guess I’m not a fan of the current names of Cadillac’s. 

  4. I think that the 911 proves that people like names. Most people when referring to a 911 will refer to the trim they are talking about (carrera, turbo, etc..) rather than just 911 

    • Especially names that vaguely sound like a girl’s name like Carrera, I can just imagine a spritely blue Porsche along with Lightning McQueen (Yes my son was obsesses with the Cars movie when he was little).

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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