2019 Hyundai Santro Test Drive
The Hyundai Santro is an example of reviving legacy car names

Legacy Car Names

The auto industry sees new models come and go by every year. Some are a hit, and others are a miss. But sometimes, the market is blessed with a car that creates a fan following, a cult behind itself. The name badge of the car becomes synonymous with the car’s legacy. If a company owns the naming rights for such a name, reviving it seems like a no-brainer, right? Instant recognition, and thus sales! Well, I don’t believe that’s a good idea, and today, will tell you why.

The Significance A Name Holds

2016 Tata Zica Studio Shot
The Tata Tiago was initially called the Zica

When I say “legacy names” I am talking about the likes of the Tata Safari, Ford F-150, Toyota Supra (old one), etc. If you are a fan of one of these cars, even reading that text could have brought a smile to your face. The name badge that these cars carry also starts carrying the weight of the reputation behind them.

If I told you that the Tata Zica is a great budget car, you would probably be very puzzled, and would question my sanity, as such a car doesn’t exist. But if I say the Tata Tiago is a great budget car, you would instantly recognise that.

The Tata Tiago was initially named the Tata Zica. Zica became Tiago because its launch was also the time of the spread of the Zika virus. If Tata renamed that car as the Zica right now, it would lose that sense of familiarity in that segment for the average buyer. That can be both a good and a bad thing, depending on how your previous track record is.

Keeping along the lines of Tata itself, let’s talk about the Tata Aria. The Aria was launched in 2010. The response was not that great, and Tata eventually discontinued it. A few years later when Tata launched the Hexa, there was a much better response from the consumers, although the car still looked like a sharper, and a contemporary Aria. The marketing was much more modern, and overall, the car managed to emerge from the shadows of its predecessor. I believe, if the car was still named the Aria, it would have not fared as well

Why This Is Not A Very Good Idea

2020 Toyota GR Supra Dashboard
The backlash from the launch of the new Toyota Supra was quite intense

Everybody knows what has happened with the new-gen Toyota Supra. When a name, that represented a car that was so famous for its robust engine now is behind a car that doesn’t have a manual transmission, the backlash is understandable. The Supra, as reported by many is actually a good car, but is not in line with the heritage the previous one left behind. The car in fact beat the BMW Z4 it’s based on, quite consistently, but there was little to no recognition for that.

Toyota must have flipped a quick buck by creating all this hype before the launch. This name with such a legacy would also have increased pre-orders, but that’s about the good stuff. I believe there is a lasting impact on that product because of the fanboys absolutely setting the comment section on fire on almost every review of that car on any platform.

Now you might say, well that wouldn’t matter that much. It’s just some fanboys, the negative sales rub-off surely can’t be that bad. If that was the case anyway, then why bother reviving that name in the first place? Plus, most of these fans are probably pretty vocal about their dissatisfaction when recommending it to their peers/family. So, this badmouthing, in some cases could lead some people to steer away from the car even before trying it out.

Hyundai Santro vs Tata Tiago Hindi Video
The Santro got the initial push from its name, but the push was limited

The Hyundai Santro’s case is not as intense, but the underlying problem is the same. People remember these products better than they actually were. My family owned a 2009 Hyundai Santro for quite a long time, and I don’t remember it being anything special. It just did what it was supposed to, nothing more, nothing less. Cut to 2018, around the launch of the new Santro, the hype around the car made it seem like the old car was the king of kings. It was special, no denying that, but it was not really disruptive.

The name kept the sales quite high for the first few months, even though some fans disliked the resemblance to the i10. However, when other cars like the Tiago, WagonR offered a better deal, the momentum slowly died. The car sells nowhere as near as the WagonR nowadays and is more expensive. Today, the name ‘Santro’ is not as special among the fans, and the layman doesn’t care what that car is named anyways. Ultimately, it was not beneficial for anyone.

2019 Maruti Baleno Launch
The current Baleno is a hatchback but the older Baleno was a sedan

Critically speaking, choosing to name a new product as the successor to the highly successful previous model draws unwanted expectations. An analogy to this is the expectation Mick Schumacher has right now in motorsport to emulate what his dad, Micheal Schumacher did. Even if he becomes an F1 world champion, people would not take it as a big deal as it’s no 7 world championships. If he does become another legend, and gets 7 world championships, he has just met the expectation.

Branding a car with a famous name inherently sets the standards high

See what I am talking about? Even if there is something good with such cars, it is expected to be good. It would not be surprising for the audience. It’s kind of like walking into a star hotel. Of course you expect the food to be nice, it’s not surprising. To make a name revival work in a positive way, the company must be 200% sure that the car itself would be disruptive in the market.

This is the reason why Nissan GT-R’s modern version was a success. It was spectacular in itself and was ‘worthy of the GTR name’ as said by almost every person who drove it. This, ‘worthiness’ expectation is unnecessary if you are just looking to sell a bunch of units of cars. Legacy is truly a double-edged sword here.


Tata Sierra 5
The Tata Sierra already has high levels of excitement and expectations

The acclaimed name puts the car on many people’s radar even before the launch itself. But with that you also risk people using phrases like ‘good, but not as good as the old one’, ‘this one lacks something the old car had‘. Such kinds of talk could hurt sales in the long term. If Tata launches the Sierra concept as a production vehicle, there will certainly be some people disappointed in some way or the other, unless the car beats even the highest of expectations.

Ultimately, the car does the talking. If the car is good, it doesn’t need a famous name behind it to be recognized. The brand name is another story altogether, however. I haven’t spoken about the Maruti Baleno, as the previous car was a sedan, and this is a hatchback. This eliminates any sort of comparison. Same is the case with the ‘Vitara’ naming on the back of the Vitara Brezza.