Electric Car Wars: Honda Clarity vs. Chevy Volt

By Mark Skoultchi

July 1, 2008

It’s no wonder that with soaring gas prices, car companies are rolling out their gas alternative car models. The two that I’ve seen get a lot of press coverage recenlty are the Honda FCX Clarity and the Chevy Volt. The Clarity is Honda’s new hydrogen fuel cell car that begins beta tests this week in Southern California (but, only if you’re a famous Hollywood type). And the Volt is Chevy’s plug-in electric concept vehicle that is expected to be available to the masses in 2010. While neither car will be ready for the consumer market for a few years, they are both already causing quite a buzz.

What hit me almost immediately was that both car names are real English words. I wonder if concocted words or a Latinate name style was ruled out because Toyota seems to owns that style with Prius. (For those of you who don’t know, Prius is a Latin comparative adjective or adverb, with meanings “ahead, in front, leading; previous, earlier, preceding, prior; former; basic;” fitting for such a car in the green vanguard.)

I like what each of the new car names conveys about its car model. “Clarity” focuses on the environmental benefit, and perhaps even suggests how simple a decision it should be to purchase one. The name also fits nicely with Honda’s other real-word names: Accord, Element, Civic, Pilot, Fit, Odyssey, etc. All of these words (maybe with the exception of “Fit”), are real words with elegant connotations. Either that, or Honda has done a great job of imbuing each of the brands with elegance and reliability. Either way, I think Clarity is as equally elegant and evocative as each of the names in the Honda brand roster.

“Volt” appeals to Chevy’s tough and exciting brand image. The name is electrically charged, powerful, and punchy. Instead of conveying the benefit, Volt implies the radical new technology. (Similar to the way Zap car does.) Much like the Chevy Cobalt, the Volt has a strong, exciting, and charged tonality. The Volt electric car marks a huge energetic shift for General Motors. The Volt (hopefully) effectively launches Chevy into the green car revolution. If Chevy hasn’t already gone under or severely missed the green boat by waiting until 2010, then the Volt may signal a new era for the American auto maker. The name aims to capitalize on this monumental change in the automotive tides.

Smart Car namingOf course, let’s not forget about the Smart Car that’s already selling its super efficient models in the U.S. In fact, by next year they plan on having a fully electric model available for sale. At $12,000 for the current gasoline-burning model, it’s no wonder that I’m seeing them pop up all over San Francisco. In parking-starved SF, it also doesn’t hurt that you can park two of these adorable little guys in the one SUV’s street parking space.

More green cars! And please, more exciting green car naming!

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