Branding: What’s In a Model Name?

Last week, GM announced the name for its long-expected, ultra-luxurious Cadillac sedan. Originally code-named LTS (or Omega), the new model will be called the CT6 when it goes on sale in late 2015. That model name may seem out of place considering the brand’s current three-letter naming convention, but it also points to where Cadillac’s nomenclature is now heading.

In other words, every Cadillac model will eventually sport an alphanumeric naming convention that begins with “CT” and ends in a number. Changes to the brand’s current model names such as ATS, CTS and XTS won’t take place until refreshed or new versions of each vehicle are released. So, for the next few years Cadillac will employ a transitional naming convention, composed of old and new names.

Cadillac Escalade
Branding strategy: Cadillac may eventually drop the Escalade name.

Branding: Naming Conventions

GM’s move is designed to align Cadillac’s naming strategy closer to what the European makes, particularly the Germans, provide. All Audi car models start with an A and are followed by a number: A3, A4, A5 and so on. Audi crossovers start with a Q and include: Q3, Q5 and Q7. Mercedes-Benz typically employs a one-letter naming convention followed by “class” to include: C-Class, E-Class and S-Class. BMW takes a similar approach, assigning a number followed by series. For instance, you have the 3 Series, 4 Series and the 7 Series, to name a few.

Lincoln and Infiniti have also changed their naming conventions in recent years. These days, all Lincoln models (except for the Navigator) start with an MK and are followed by a third letter as in MKZ, MKS, MKT and MKX. For 2014, Infiniti changed its naming convention with “Q” followed by two numbers now representing cars (Q70, for example) and “QX” applied to all utility vehicles (QX50, QX60 and QX70). Unlike Cadillac, Infiniti introduced its new naming convention at once.

As expected, news about the top-end Cadillac’s planned introduction was warmly received by the automotive press. Even so, there was also disappointment with the choice of the name — not a few of us believe that “LTS” would have been an entirely suitable choice, what could represent “long or lengthened touring sedan.” But that won’t happen as new Cadillac president, Johan de Nysschen, the architect of Infiniti’s naming convention, announced the pending change with management backing.

The Experts Weigh In

Coming up with new model names is par for the industry. However, changing the entire naming strategy is a big move. Auto Trends reached out to a few brand-savvy folks to get their take on the changes and received mixed responses.

Bob Ramsey, a marketing consultant with Senior Living magazine out of British Columbia, Canada, pointed out that both Cadillac and Lincoln “…are trending to a universal scheme, yet not fully realized by the consumer, which includes anyone not a
brand loyalist.” Both brands have relied nearly exclusively on Canadian and American consumers, but now have much greater, indeed, global aspirations.

Ramsey felt that where Bonneville (Pontiac) and Fleetwood (Cadillac) names once met something to established owners (likely to include those that subscribe to his magazine), the model names mean nothing to most new shoppers, especially to global consumers.

Branding expert Rob Frankel, author of “The Revenge of Brand X: How to Build a Big Time Brand on the Web or Anywhere Else,” noted that Cadillac has been moving away from its “older man’s brand” image thanks to “new body designs and advertising.” He understands why Cadillac is making the move, but he thinks it is a mistake.

And that mistake has to do with confusing models with other brands. Said Frankel, “Try throwing all those number/letter names on to the table without their manufacturer’s names and see how many people can pick out whose is whose.”

Know Us by Our Brands?

One way that confusion may be averted is to simply refer to each vehicle by its brand name with no regard to model. That seems to be the direction premium brands are taking today with an Audi A3 being just as much as an Audi as an A8. It appears that Cadillac has that thinking in mind too, with only your wallet knowing those distinctions.

Related Reading

Grand Cadillac to be Built in Detroit

Great Leap Forward: Cadillac to New York

Cadillac LTS and Other Luxury Rumors

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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