What’s old is new again, but the concept is far from novel.
Why don’t EV makers give their motors clever brand names?
Automobile companies have been naming their engines almost as long as they’ve been making them. In fact, the word “motor” is literally part of many automakers’ corporate branding; more specific to vehicles’ powerplants, Buick was advertising its “Valve-In-Head” engines more than a century ago. Besides actual brand names, automakers’ alphanumeric type designations—like General Motors’ LSx or LTx V-8 engines, Toyota’s JZ family of inline-sixes beloved by the JDM tuner crowd, and Jaguar’s legendary XJ inline-six—have become part of the common parlance of car enthusiasts. Those enthusiasts have even generated their own appellations and nicknames for their favorite powerplants, like Ford’s “Windsor” and “Cleveland” V-8s, named after the cities and assembly plants where they were made.
Besides descriptive brand names like Buick used, there have been evocative monikers like the Blue Flame Six that was the Corvette’s original powerplant, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the current Mustang is powered by another member of the automotive animal kingdom, the Coyote V-8. The Coyote, of course, is not Ford’s only current engine brand. There is Ford’s family of forced-induction three-, four-, and six-cylinder EcoBoost engines.
Invented brand names go back at least as far as Kodak, a meaningless word that George Eastman understood would stick in peoples’ minds, but many marketers today prefer brand names that convey some kind of technical meaning, like the EcoBoost brand. Engine names don’t have to be that technology specific, though. Jaguars new Ingenium family of gasoline and diesel engines seems to be so named so that we’ll think Jaguar’s ingenious engineers have apparently harnessed unobtainium.
Some of those engine brand names have even become part of popular culture. Oldmobile’s Rocket V-8 inspired the first rock and roll song, and MOPAR’s Hemi was such a legendary brand name that Chrysler brought it back with the popular “Got a HEMI in That?” advertising campaign—even if the current HEMIs are completely different engines than the 426-cubic-inch “elephant motor” of the 1960s, or earlier 1950s vintage Hemis.
Why, then, has no maker of electric cars started giving its motors brand names? It’s almost as if what makes an electric car electric isn’t worthy. The hybrid age brought us GM’s Two-Mode Hybrid and Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, but those are inclusive brands for the entire powertrain, not the motor alone.
Can you think of a single EV maker that has branded its electric motors? The most prominent producer of electric cars, Tesla, isn’t doing anything other than specifying the type of motor, in the case of the most recent upgrade, a three-phase, four-pole AC induction motor with a copper rotor. In fact, when Tesla upgraded the front motors in the all-wheel-drive Model S and Model X, the EV startup was perfectly happy to somewhat awkwardly refer to the new “permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motor.” How exciting. Which would entice you more, PerMaSync or “synchronous reluctance”? The latter sounds more like the name of a jam band than a powerful motor. Also, do consumers really want a reluctant motor?
[Editor’s note: Reluctance is actually a term from magnetics. It’s the magnetic analog to electronic resistance. To blues harp fans, one of the holy grails of harmonica microphones is a vintage Shure “Green Bullet” with a “Controlled Reluctance” element.]
Most makers of battery-electric vehicles don’t even go into as much technical detail about their motors as Tesla does. They usually just list power and torque specs, although sometimes we’ll see things like “permanent magnet” and “synchronous.” Occasionally, we’ll see a reference to AC or DC.
Nissan refers simply to the Leaf’s “100-percent electric motor,” as if you could have something like a 50-percent electric motor that ran on something other than electrons the other half of the time. Lotus promises that the Evija will have 2000 horsepower worth of, as yet unbranded, electric power. Electric truck startups Rivian, Bollinger, and Workhorse also mention power specs but don’t bother to give their motors any special names. The exception seems to be Rimac, which provides technology and consulting services to a number of automakers working on EVs, including Porsche (which holds an equity stake in the Croatian company), in addition to making the CTwo electric supercar. The quad-motor CTwo’s front and rear motors are labeled PM500 and PM700, respectively, in images on the site although they’re not mentioned by brand name on the Rimac website. PM700 sounds technical, but does it have the same appeal as Blue Flame Six?
Maybe EV makers treat EV motors as almost generic devices because, unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors are relatively simple devices. Call it a Rube Goldberg invention or a synchronized mechanical ballet, an ICE with pistons, valves, and a crankshaft, along with ancillary induction and exhaust devices is an impressive feat of engineering. Even the most advanced electric motors essentially have one moving part, the motor armature. The simplicity of electric motors is a main reason why EV advocates tout reduced maintenance costs for electrically-propelled motor vehicles.
Not only are they simpler than combustion engines, electric motors are typically quieter. There’s some whine as the motor comes up to speed, but nothing like the basso profundo of an American V-8, or the soprano shriek of a Ferrari V-12. Maybe it’s easier to give a brand to something loud.
Electric motors may be quieter than combustion engines, but there’s no reason to hide them behind a mere part number.
When it comes to branding things, I’m partial to portmanteau words like Harmonicaster. For EVs, so far I’ve come up with motor names like Whispower, InstaTorque, InductaPower, and TriPhase, but I’m sure that you can come up with some that are better.
If you were responsible for branding an EV’s motor (or motors), what names would you create?