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The Next Big Trend: Retro Car Names

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author photo by Doug DeMuro August 2017

Recently, my friend Andrew and I -- with no help from anyone else -- came up with a theory: The next big trend in the car industry will be retro car names. Yes, retro car names. Not retro car designs -- that one played out throughout the 2000s, and it's considered old-fashioned by now. I mean the names themselves.

Here's what I'm talking about. Over the last few decades, many automakers have abandoned traditional names for combinations of numbers and letters. Acura was among the first; the Integra and the Legend gave way to the MDX, the RDX and the ZDX and anything else that could possibly end in X, as long as it makes BUX (Am I right, Acura?! Eh?!). Other automakers did it, too, like Lincoln and Cadillac; now Hyundai's Genesis brand is making the switch, and most luxury car brands have dropped traditional names in favor of numerals, combinations of letters, or something that's easy to get into a "lineup" or a "series."

So here's my theory: Car companies will soon bring back old-school names to add a retro flair to their cars.

This has already happened at least twice in the car industry, and I'll use those models as an example. Lincoln, as we all know, has switched from traditional naming to difficult-to-remember letters; there's the MKT and the MKC and the MKX and the MKZ, and nobody can really seem to grasp what any of those mean. But when it came time for a flagship sedan, it wasn't the MKL or something. It was ... the Continental. It recalled a day when Lincoln's cars were the standard of the world -- and it's a fitting name for a flagship vehicle.

Then we move along to Mercedes-Benz. For decades, most Mercedes-Benz models have had letter and number names: the E350, the S550, the GL450, etc. etc. But when it came time for a flagship brand, did Mercedes call it the ... P550? Or the W350? Or whatever letter their focus groups would've told them signified a "luxury" car? No -- they reached into their history and pulled out ... Maybach. A true flagship. The car isn't retro, but the name is -- just like Continental.

My prediction: Lincoln and Mercedes won't be the only car brands to do this. Cadillac may have gone all letter-numbery on us, but I could see the "DeVille" or "Eldorado" names coming back for the right top-of-the-range model. Acura may be in its "XXX" phase right now, but I think people would respond well to an RLX replacement called the Legend -- a car many of us remember fondly from our youth. And while Hyundai may be gearing up to call an entry-level Genesis model the "G50," well ... OK, don't bring back "Excel."

But you get my point: Retro car names can be cool, and I suspect automakers will soon start to use them. Retro designs may be gone, but don't be surprised if Ford rolls out a non-retro design called the Fairlane -- the future and the past, together in one. And if it happens, well, just remember: You heard it here first.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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