Mark Phelan: Cadillac, Mercedes hope to win at name game |

Mark Phelan: Cadillac, Mercedes hope to win at name game

It was well past time for Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz to adopt new naming systems, despite complaints from some of the brands’ followers.

There’s no evidence to support the people who decry Mercedes’ abandonment of names like M-class, or the fanatics who still insist Cadillac’s success would be assured if it dusted off a few old chrome badges that read “Eldorado” and “Seville.”

History suggests that a car’s success is unrelated to its name. The difference between the iconic, irreplaceable Mustang and disgraced Maverick lies in their engineering and design, not names. The claim that Edsel was doomed by its name is a myth. The brand had a premium price and debuted during a deep recession: a recipe for disaster.

“A great car is a great car, regardless of what you call it,” said IHS Auto­motive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley.

So why go through a long, costly process establishing new names in customers’ minds?

Names don’t bestow greatness on a vehicle, but a good naming system can enforce logic and discipline on a product line.

Mercedes’ 2014 model guide looks like a can of alphabet soup exploded, strewing the kitchen with random groups of letters, numbers and words.

The CL, for instance is a big, top-of-the-line, luxury coupe. Prices run from $162,000 to $215,000. A CLA is an entry-level compact sedan you can get for $29,900. The CLS is a sleek four-door starting at $65,990, while a C-class sedan goes for $35,800.

Cadillac was about to have the same problem. CTS is a fine name, and ATS is a good one, but a model line in which the larger XTS would soon be surpassed by a couple of more expensive cars whose names begin with letters that come earlier in the alphabet had to go.

The new arrangement — “CT” followed by a different numeral for each model line — has an appealing simplicity. The upcoming CT6 sedan is the only vehicle to get that name so far.

Whether Cadillac’s new nomenclature has staying power may be clear when we see how the brand handles names for its new crossover SUVs, starting with the 2016 SRX that goes on sale next year. It needs a name that can set the tone for a family of SUVs that will grow to include a smaller compact and a bigger family hauler with three rows of seats.

Plus the Escalade, of course. Don’t expect any change there. That name’s solid gold and luxury brands’ enthusiasm for new names stops short of alienating their richest, most loyal and conservative customers. (See: Lincoln Navigator and Mercedes SL.)

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at [email protected].

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