Carmakers ask 'what’s in a name?' as they enter Chinese market

While eyebrows were initially raised by British carmaker Lotus's grand plans for expansion into the Chinese market, they went even higher when it was revealed its cars would be released there under an entirely different name.

Lotus has designs on opening 25 dealerships across China in the next three years but the Lianhua name (which is Chinese for Lotus) is already being used by the Youngman Automobile Group after a deal was struck with Group Lotus back in 2006.

It probably made good business sense back then, and, ever since, Youngman has been labeling a range of Lianhua cars in the Chinese market's lower end (at about 100,000 yuan or 11,000 euros each). But Group Lotus wants no connection to now be made between those cars and theirs at the very high end of the market and so have opted to brand their Chinese cars Lutesi - which sounds the same as but has nothing to do with the flower.

The case of renowned international car makers having to find a different name when entering the Chinese market is, however, nothing new.

Some have looked for a Chinese name that gives a new meaning to their established brand while others have opted for a Chinese name that sounds distinctly like its Western equivalent.

Hence BMW has in China become known as Baoma (or "treasurable horse") and Mercedes-Benz is called Benchi, which not only sounds a bit like Benz but means "to gallop."

Some others have opted for a little transliteration - Lexus has become Leikesasi, Bentley has turned into Binli and Infiniti has been morphed into Infeinidi.

Lexus has in fact tried for the best of both of these brave new worlds - before it was officially launched as a brand in China, its cars were known there as Lingzhi, which roughly translated means "soaring ambitions" in Chinese.

"For us, we want to have a more global brand image, just like Lexus, Infiniti and Bentley have been doing in China," was how Yang Cheng, PR manager for the Lotus sales company in Beijing, explained the name change to the China Daily newspaper last week.

And the reason why changing names is so easy for these famous - and historic - brands?

Last year China reconfirmed its place as the world's leading car market with 18.06 million units sold.

MS

 

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