Name Your Car!

November, 1999

Greetings, Couch potatoes! 

Thanksgiving is coming! It's that time of the year when we pack up our "yoots" into our minivans and do the whole "over the river and through the woods" bit to grandma's house we go and get our tryptophan turkey fix, and watch "the game" on TV. During "the game", as the Fighting Whozits battle the Mighty University of The East in preparation for the Testosterone Bowl, the televised action will be interspersed with ultimate demonstration of capitalism, commercials. 
I can guarantee that at least one of the commercials will be advertising some brand of motor oil. Whatever brand it is isn't important. But the commercial will open with a "mechanic" in his home garage standing in front of /next to/ behind a cherry red, mint condition, classic '57 Olds ThunderBuick, of which he's just changed the oil, using the said brand. In the background of his garage will be a 1963 supercharged GollyWow and a brand new Sport Utility, and about 25 thousand dollars worth of tools just hanging on the walls. If you examine the "mechanic" carefully, you will notice that, except for his spotless coveralls, he could have come off the cover of GQ magazine. As the announcer rattles on about giving your car THE BEST PROTECTION MONEY CAN BUY, we see our "auto enthusiast" wiping his pristine hands into a spotless rag. His fingers look as though the most difficult labor they have ever had to contend with was holding hands with a debutante after getting a bad nail job. As the commercial closes, the camera pulls back to reveal his multi-zillion dollar house, his fashion model wife and the studio kids. The general impression this commercial carries is that "if you use this product, there will be no friction in your life."
The problem is, I've used this brand of motor oil, and after crawling out from under my 1990 Plymouth Plebeian, all that happens to me is that I look like I could be a stand-in for a wildcat oil driller. My garage looks like an ad for disaster insurance, and my kids running around are the Urchins of the Apocalypse. My wife won't even go into the garage (she's afraid she'll stick to something) and she wouldn't come near me until I've been fully de-contaminated. Besides that, most of that crummy oil I put in my car burns off anyway. So much for the suburban "beautiful people" image.
But this situation makes me think of the images that the automobile manufacturers are trying to portray when they name their various offspring as they are foist into the public arena. My favorite is the Lincoln 'Navigator', Naperville's most popular upscale sport-utility-wallowing -behemoth. I see quite a few of these raised-ranches navigating the parking lots around the mall. Aptly named, for marketing a $50,000 Ford truck. 
New cars are named after signs of the Zodiac (Taurus, Scorpio), emotions, elements on the Periodic Table (Neon), medical procedures (Probe), adjectives (Intrepid), periods of time (Century, Dynasty), places on the map, cloud formations, animals and so on. There are misspellings of words (Altima, Galant) too. Misnomers are also pretty common. Chevrolet tried to market its Nova in South America, without success. (Nobody figured out ahead of time that No Va in Spanish means 'doesn't go'. After that somebody at GM was looking for a job.)
Rather than letting the marketing department name our cars, we should take a hand in it ourselves. We can name them for what they are--- the Cadillac Pretense, the Plymouth Austaire. Or dub them according to the feelings we get from owning and driving them ---the Dodge Doubtful, the Ford Failure or the Audi Schlep. How about the Nissan Fatigue? We've all seen the Chrysler Crisis and the Honda Helpless sitting alongside the road, haven't we? Medical conditions are a fair choice, considering how really bad cars can cause us to get them. The Saturn Schizophrenia, the Buick Bulimic and the Chevy Scoliosis come to mind. I met a man who got a Pontiac Aneurysm right at his dealer. 
We could try some variations on a theme. The Mercury Grand Marquis de Sade. (The Marquis de Sade is the man responsible for sadism-- plus he invented the hide-a-bed, or sleeper sofa.) Would you buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee RTD? (Repetitive Trauma Disorder-- the Jeep can climb mountains and cross rocky canyons---and the passengers feel every bone-jarring inch) The Pontiac Grand A.M.- the car for morning people. Why are there so many 'grands' in the showrooms nowadays? 
I know I'm being silly. But I've just spent the last month schlepping between used car lots, trying to replace a dead minivan. And I did---finally. I bought a Dodge Caravan 'sport wagon'. This is marketing again-- it's a 'sport wagon' if you consider collecting cub scouts and distributing soccer players a 'sport'. This van has sport suspension-- anti sway bars front and rear--- so my wife can turn corners like a racing car. This may actually come in handy when she goes to the shopping mall-- and has to circumnavigate the beached Lincolns. It's red-- so maybe I can get the GQ guy to come over and change my oil. If he's not busy with a debutante.

Gotta go--- drilling for oil.....

Neil