Automotive Naming Trends from the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show

Featuring the theme of “Committed to a Better Life”, the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show brought to the audience a collection of new car models from important car manufacturers around the world, as well as many exciting trends. New energy, new technology such as AI (artificial intelligence), connected cars, and more were all brought to the fore. How these new car models and technologies are named also reveal a few interesting insights about the automotive industry.

In this piece, we will dive into several overarching trends that were apparent at the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show, and their implications for brand naming.

1. New Automotive Brands Created by Chinese Local Car Manufacturers

Chinese domestic car manufacturers have grown rapidly in recent years. Originally positioned to the mass market and targeting traditional Chinese consumers, these brands now starting to actively explore the premium market and new technology. In the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show, Great Wall Motor and Geely showed clearly such an intention by each announcing a newborn high-end brand: WEY and LYNK&CO.

WEY and LYNK&CO brand name descriptions
WEY and LYNK&CO brand name descriptions

These names stand out strongly among traditional automotive brands:

  1. Both names reflect an international and high-end image, helping to anchor the brand in a more premium position.
  2. The names and logos are simple and exquisite, delivering a sense of technology, futurism and modernity.
  3. Both names carry certain crossover elements, leaving an imaginary space for consumers to fill.

WEY feels like a mobile phone brand (same pronunciation as “喂” [wèi], the Chinese way of answering a phone call). LYNK&CO shares some similarities with fast-fashion brand names, such as H&M, C&A, and Jack & Jones. It projects a simple and trendy feeling, very attractive to youngsters.

Compared with their stylish alphabetic names, the brands’ Chinese names 魏派 [wèi pài] “WEI’s category” and 领克 [lǐng kè] “lead and overcome” project a quite traditional image, featuring grandness and authority. A task for these brands might be clarifying the brand positioning and tonality to make a consistent expression in brand identity communication.

2. New Concept

TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) is an innovative system created by Toyota. The system offers innovations throughout the whole automobile manufacturing chain. For example, TNGA can customize under-pan system and share common auto parts among various car models, which optimize production efficiency. At the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show, Toyota launched TNGA’s Chinese name: 丰巢概念 [fēng cháo gài niàn] (expounding upon the concept of Toyota/Abundant Nest; sharing the same pronunciation as 蜂巢 [fēng cháo]: bee hive) together with the concept cars “丰巢 FUN” and “丰巢 WAY” which are developed from the TNGA system.

As the name of an innovative concept, “丰巢” [fēng cháo] is simple and iconic. It indicates car manufacturing needs accuracy and craftsmanship like building a beehive. It also shows that a majority of Toyota vehicles (from character 丰 [fēng] “abundant”) will be manufactured based on TNGA. It is a memorable name with unique brand spirit and connects closely to the master brand of Toyota.

丰巢FUN and 丰巢WAY
丰巢FUN and 丰巢WAY

3. New Car Models

Newly launched vehicle models are always the focus of the auto show. Among all new model names, those listed below carry rich meaning or stories, from which we can analyze the naming structures and the connotations.

Several models unveiled at the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show (*Note: Ren 至仁 was launched at the Geneva auto show in March, 2017)
Several models unveiled at the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show (*Note: Ren 至仁 was launched at the Geneva auto show in March, 2017)

Some of these new names follow a fixed family nomenclature; some apply certain naming skills; some convey unique messages.

  • Family nomenclature: Teramont 途昂 [tú áng]、KODIAQ 柯迪亚克 [kē dí yà kè]、Arteon

By sharing the same character or affix with the family nomenclature, these brands are easy to memorize and associate with the master brand. The Volkswagen SUV family name structure is a good example: all VW SUV model names start with “T” in the alphabetic name and “途 [tú]: trip” in the Chinese name. The family includes: Touran 途安 [tú ān] (trip, safety), Tiguan 途观 [tú guan] (trip, landscape), Touareg 途锐 [tú ruì] (trip, sharp) and the latest model Teramont 途昂 [tú áng] (trip, soaring). This family nomenclature is widely recognized in the market. By following the nomenclature, VW can bring quick recognition to the new model. Arteon is another new model under Volkswagen, upgraded from CC. The suffix “-eon” is also the family root of Volkswagen’s high-end models such as Phideon 辉昂 [huī áng] (brilliance, soaring), launched in 2016.

  • Classic heritage: Valkyrie、Stelvio

Valkyrie is the top supercar under Aston Martin and Stelvio is the first SUV launched by Alpha Romeo. These names must sound familiar to their fans as they are named after classic car models from the past, as a salute to the brand heritage.

The meaning and connotation reflected by the new car model names can be classified into the following types:

  • Personification: Equinox 探界者 [tàn jiè zhě] (territory explorer)、Navigator 领航员 [lǐng háng yuán]

These kinds of names deliver brand personalities and brand appeals vividly. A concern is that there are a few popular car models from different master brands that apply this typology in a similar manner, which causes confusion. There are more and more models which are easily to mixed up with competitors. Taking 探界者 [tàn jiè zhě] (Chevrolet Equinox) as an example, it is similar to Explorer 探险者 [tàn xiǎn zhě] under Ford and Pathfinder 探路者 [tàn lù zhě] under Nissan.

探界者 [tàn jiè zhě] (Chevrolet Equinox)
探界者 [tàn jiè zhě] (Chevrolet Equinox)
  • Astronomical terms: Velar 星脉 [xīng mài] (star vein)、Eclipse

The universe is vast and unpredictable, waiting to be explored by the human being. Hence, astronomical terms deliver a strong sense of mystery and futurism. Car models with modern design and cutting-edge technology tend to favor this naming type. 

  • Luxury & fashion: Ghost “Long wheelbase” 鼎臻 [dǐng zhēn] (a heavy ancient vessel / attain a height)、Dawn “Inspired by fashion” 摩登锋尚 [mó dēng fēng shàng] (modern fashion)

The names indicate infinite luxury and fashion of haute couture, in line with the luxury tonality of Rolls-Royce.

Dawn “Inspired by fashion”
Dawn “Inspired by fashion”
  • Authenticity: Escala、Hallmark、Ren 至仁 [zhì rén] (benevolence)

These models are premium limited editions. They have bold and pioneering design but low-profile names. What deserves to be mentioned is Ren 至仁 [zhì rén], (under a Chinese supercar brand Techrules. The brand uses the traditional Chinese value “benevolence” in its name, showing respect to the perseverance and dedication of scientists and engineers working for the brand. As a Chinese brand, the name also demonstrates the confidence of Chinese culture.

4. New technology

We see a large amount of new technologies in the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show such as new energy, artificial intelligence, automatic driving, virtual reality, biometric identification, etc. Some model names also reflect the new technology to some extent.

Nextev EVE
Roewe Vision E
Jeep-云图 [yún tú]
  • New energy: SAIC MG E-motion、Nextev EVE、Trumpchi EnSpirit

All these names highlight the element “E”, delivering great power to these light electric cars.

  • Biometric identification: Jeep-云图 [yún tú] (cloud image)

This concept car can accurately recognize car-owners and passengers through facial or audio identification system and authorize the right person to drive. The name 云图 (cloud image) reflects the cloud technology with a connotation of biometric identification ability.

  • VR and AR: Roewe Vision E 光之翼 [guāng zhī yì]

This car knows the real time traffic condition in all dimensions with AR-HUD (Augmented Reality-Heads Up Display). The Chinese name “光之翼” [guāng zhī yì] tells the story that people see more information through AR and VR technology and are able to transport with more freedom.

Conclusion: Technology, Nomenclatures, and Exploration

From new brand concepts and product technology to marketing ideas, we see lots of innovations in the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show The brand names also reflect these exciting new trends, for example:

  • New brands and NEV brands tend to reflect new technology and internet in the name by using letter “E”, “cloud” concept, and “connection” concept.
  • New models under a mature product family stick to a fixed nomenclature, e.g. VW SUV family.
  • Exploration, pioneering and leadership are very popular messages reflected by the new names.

As a naming expert in automobile industry (with clients including Volkswagen, Renault, Land Rover, Peugeot etc.), Labbrand will continue to present the latest trend in the automotive industry.



  • Labbrand Naming Team,

    Labbrand, Shanghai