• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Does the “Make” and “Model” Make You?

March 2017

A morning’s commute, particularly by car, leaves very little to the imagination for the unimaginative. In the truest sense, it’s little more than a mean to an end. We do it every day, usually at approximately eight a.m. and again at five. These daily doldrums through which we semi-autonomously drive (before the caffeine has driven through us) have led me to begin tuning into the things I see on the road around me. Namely the things are names, but not of people or places, but of fellow cars cozying up to me. Between the yawns and the stop signs that punctuate each morning’s sleepy commute, I began to take notice of car makes and models and the meaning behind some of the most frequent ones. It’s become an interest piqued by boredom rather than inspiration.

I’ve learned that one’s automobile serves society as an expedient of sorts. It transports not only a person but a perception as well. There’s no better way to show off social status than while watching and waiting in the left-turn lane. It’s never easier to tell the haves from the have-nots. Names become interesting in this light—which…well wouldn’t you know it…just changed. The light is green. Take a journey with me and you might see what I mean.

Though not as ubiquitous on the roadways, the Land Rover is a wonderful car to first explore. The latest Rover advert shows its Sport careening down a dangerous declivity, presumably in some hinterland hundreds of miles from the next closest troglodyte tribe. How often, I ask, is the average Land Rover owner navigating a terrain as tortuous as this? In my experience, it seems as though the greatest concentration of Land Rovers are found in the flattest, most affluent places on Earth. The Land Rover Adventure evokes (apropos, another of its models is called the Evoque) similarly enthralling reveries of ventures to be had. In reality, roving through a gravel parking lot at a softball game will likely be the most rugged encounter those rotund tires see. These names, plastered on every one’s posterior, try to capture the essence of what life might be. Seldom, if ever, are these sporty and adventurous ends realized.

In contrast to the Rover is the humble Honda. If we are to anthropomorphize at will, the Honda to me is the diffident, deferential, and less successful little brother to the Land Rover. Honda’s models appear to cater to a socially conscious milieu—a milieu, I might add as a proud Honda owner, within which I live. The Civic, for instance, whispers intonations of “civic duty” in my ear every time the ignition awakens the engine’s buzzing bowels. The Civic is economized in both size and pomp. One must flout all flamboyance when driving this car, believe me.

Honda builds other models like the Accord and the Fit. Like their Civic sibling, these names stimulate scant sexy appeal. That classic archetypal young, restive beat generation degenerate, driving itinerantly on Route 66 wouldn’t be caught dead in such a humdrum Honda. Honda’s models sound more like a prescription for a pacific, health-conscious world rather than masculine contraptions of muscle, steel, and fuel. If take the model names as prescriptions, we might assume the Honda ethos to be this: Honda wants of us a civic-mindedness, an accordance with our fellows and our laws, and physical fitness to top things off. Perhaps the Chinese automaker is on to something here, but I for one have their number; Honda’s subliminal, salubrious edicts aren’t lost on me.

Nissan, Honda’s Japanese competitor, is a bit more exciting with its models’ names. The Rogue, Frontier, Altima, Pathfinder—all names that push the pistons and stir the camshafts in the mind. These four terms taken out of place make me think of things like Teddy Roosevelt whacking with a machete at the River of Doubt or Lewis and Clark blindly pushing their way toward the brink of the West. In other words, I’m not thinking of mid-sized sedans.

The Rogue, similar in style and function to the aforementioned Accord, evokes the feeling of a very different experience. Upon turning the Rogue’s key, one becomes a picaresque Jack Sparrow, equipped with the derring-do to drive alone in the HOV lane. Roguish, indeed. I like to believe, once combined, Nissan’s models create an exciting tale. Perhaps the company’s plan is for you to roguishly embark…upon an unformed frontier…find a path unbeknownst and reach the Altima (ultimate?) destination? If so, I say bravo to the company’s poetic panache.

American cars are always less inventive. Ford’s Focus could be a harbinger to today’s campaign trying to curb distracted driving. It’s also possible Ford was working its way through employee attention deficiency at headquarters. Imagine seeing the word Focus as the last thing to fall from the assembly line as the car moves toward the lot. The Fiesta is easily enough understood with even the most basic bilingualism, and the name is one that dances off the tongue in North and South America alike (the same can’t be said for the Chevy Nova, which, when added to it a space, becomes no va, or "not going" in Spanish. It may as well be called limón). The Taurus is suited for those born between April and May and the Escape is what I would like to do when thinking too long about these names.

The bourgeois motorists make themselves known in their BMWs and their Mercedes Benzes. These cars come from the Germanic tribes, with all their famed craftsmanship and repute. It seems both spend too much attention on luxury and design and not enough on names. They choose names that are blander, yet somehow contradictorily more imaginative than the competition. The BMW or Benz doesn’t preordain the driver. The BMW has the stock X1, X3, and X5. Mercedes has the G Class, E Class, and S Class. There’s nothing telling about them; they’re mere letters and numbers—like cattle—but with an emphasis on “class”. You’re not made in the image of a roguish, civic, sporty, or focused motorist. Instead, the mystery is left to driver’s device. Class is the springboard, ambiguity and intrigue take the wheel.

Perhaps mine are the misplaced musings of an uninspired motorist on his way to work. Perhaps I’d better pay more attention to the street signs ahead. Either way, the focus groups should know that their days spent naming names aren’t for naught. I’ve taken notice, and maybe from now on, during the dry diurnal drives, you might too.

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