Those new brand bosses of the Big Three are starting from scratch with a bevy of names making their debut in 1997, and more are coming right behind.
The name game has gone big time ever since the early '60s when corporate marketing wizards determined that customers demanded variety and that eight choices were better than one or two.
Just for 1997, model year, the branders have these names striving to become household rivals of Coke, Nike, Saran Wrap and, from way back when, Duesenberg: Cadillac Catera,(Plymouth) Prowler, Expedition and Mercury Mountaineer. And for the not-so-far-away 1998 model year, consider Olds Intrigue in place of the venerable Cutlass Supreme and maybe Alero for Achieva. What's really in a name? Thunderbird long has been a favorite of the press and was even rhymed by Pontiac's Firebird. Now there's talk that the T-Bird was nearly dropped from the Ford lineup. Buick's general sales manager in the late '50s bemoaned the failure of the all-new 1957 Electra, Invicta and LeSabre. "Chevrolet dealers (then accounting for a fourth of the total U.S. car market) could sell cars if they called them all horse manure," he maintained.
Revivals also have been in order. Lee lacocca tried to bring back Imperial in 1990 as theflagship. It never did successfully compete with Cadillac, Lincoln or any other luxury line and now may be permanently relegated to the archives. Remember Citation? It was a wonderful race horse but a dud as a car. It also was an Edsel sub-marque. Unbelievably, Chevrolet brought it back in 1980 in the first wave of GM front-wheel-drive entries. Citation was a tough sell in 1958 with Edsel, and as a Chevy it ran into a horrible safety hassle.
The brand gurus have some un-selling to do, too. Olds 98, dating back to Charles F. Kettering's Rocket engine of 1949, dies in 1997. So does Chevrolet Caprice and, temporarily, Impala, which returns in 1999 as successor to Lumina. Chevy drops the Lumina nameplate on its all-new '97 minivan, going instead with a new name: Venture. Wasn't naming both a car and minivan Lumina a marketing goof?
Chevy Corsica and Beretta are about to die. The newcomer is Malibu, another name out of the past. Olds Ciera dies as Cutlass returns for '97. Chrysler LeBaron is LeDead, replaced by Sebring, even though LeBaron remained popular for years and even marked the rebirth of the convertible under Lee lacocca.
Chrysler apparently is happy with Cirrus. That name was slated for a late '60s Pontiac. F. James McDonald, Pontiac chief and later GM president, told a writer the name had to be dropped because it "sounded too much like tsouris, the Yiddish word for trouble, and the Jewish dealers complained."