Chrysler unveiled its latest concept car on Jan. 3. According to the press material, it’s an electric-powered family vehicle created “by millennials for millennials” with an in-vehicle wireless network and three semi-autonomous driving modes (with the option to upgrade to a fourth). It’s hailed as the fifth generation of “family transportation.” And so station wagons begat minivans which begat SUVs which begat crossovers which leads us to Chrysler’s latest concept vehicle – which they’ve called the “Chrysler Portal.”
And that’s where I have a problem. The name. I hate the name. Why are automobile manufacturers so terrible at naming automobiles? They are awful. Doubt me? Here’s some lame names to start things off:
- Ford Probe: Because you want to be reminded of invasive medical procedures or investigations into corporate malfeasance.
- Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard: Perhaps it sounded better in Japanese?
- The Toyota Previa: Placenta previa can cause severe bleeding before or during delivery.
- The Studebaker Dictator (1927-1938): Could be making a comeback.
- The Mazda Laputa: In Spanish, translates as “the whore.”
Let’s examine the most recent example, Portal.
Portal is another word for door or gate but it has an ominous connotation. Nothing good has ever come, or will ever come from someone going into a “portal.”
In science fiction, a portal is something you go through to enter a dystopian nightmare. A portal, as anyone who has seen the movie Coraline 37 times (as I have) knows, is the thing you crawl through to get to your demonic “other mother.” When you die and go to heaven, Saint Peter does not meet you at the pearly portal. In fact, the only good thing about a portal is that it is usually the thing you have to crawl back out of to escape the trouble you got yourself into by crawling into the portal in the first place.
This is not the most egregious example of auto makers getting names wrong. That might be the Honda Odyssey, named after Homer’s epic about a hero striving to make it home. Let’s look at the original story: After fighting in the Trojan War and then years of wandering and fighting creatures such as the Cyclops, the hero Odysseus returns disguised as a beggar to find his home overrun with suitors trying to marry his wife; he eventually wreaks vengeance on them, killing them all. Nothing says family vehicle more than lonely wandering punctuated with a bloodbath.
Could they not have come up with something better? Perhaps BMW already had the “BMW K-Lear Series” in development? The pitch? Before every long drive, dad decides who sits where and then, at the first rest stop, the kids desert him in a rainstorm.
Let’s be clear. The Honda Odyssey was a conscious decision. The people at Honda had to know what they were picking. There’s no “other” Odyssey. There’s no way the designers said, “Not that one. We mean the other Odyssey, you know, the one where Odysseus picks up Penelope and the kids in his six-door galley crossover and they go for loukoumades.”
When it comes to naming cars, the Italians do a good job. They stick to numbers or they pick names that have some logic attached to them. Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Fiat) offers the Punto (“point”), the Linea (“line”) and the Abarth Spider, which makes sense since spiders are agile. Alfa Romeo has the Giulietta and Brera (named after a district in Milan). When it comes to naming cars, it may be a case of, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When not in Rome, do as the Romans do when not in Rome.”
And so I say to the folks at Chrysler, if you decide to put your new millennial family vehicle into production, please, in the name of Odysseus, ask the Italians to do it or, at the very least, change the name. Think of something more appropriate for what will essentially be another souped-up family station wagon for parents in denial. Call it the “Chrysler Compromise” or the “Chrysler Inevitable.” Call it the “Chrysler Shame Wagon” or the “Chrysler A2B.” Call it the “Chrysler Exhale” or the “Chrysler How is it those kids are better in two days and I’m sick for two weeks?”
Just not the Portal. Nothing good ever happens in a portal.
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