Why car nicknames like ‘Macho Machine’ need a comeback

Published April 7, 2021, 11:34 AM

by Inigo Roces

Toyota Corona Coupe ‘Macho Machine’

Though the car is already 40-years old by now, nearly every car nut worth his salt knows what a ‘Macho Machine’ is. It was the nickname given to the ’79-‘82 Toyota Corona Coupe.

Being a new and rather unfamiliar model at the time, Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) opted to use the star power of then Philippine Basketball Association legend, Robert Jaworski, to market the car. To make it easier to remember, it was promoted with the nickname, Macho Machine, in commercials and promotional paraphernalia. Needless to say, it worked, and the car is known more today by its nickname than its longer, unremarkable actual name.

Other popular nicknames

Over the years, Toyota has continued to employ that strategy on other models, like the Corolla. The names E90 or E110 (their chassis codes) may not be familiar, but their nicknames, ‘Twin Cam’ or ‘Love Life’ Corolla certainly are. Like the Macho Machine, the taglines were blasted to our ears so repetitively that we’ve begun to call them by it.

Isuzu Sportivo ‘Crosswind’

Other car brands have tried to adopt the strategy with some success as well. One of Isuzu’s most popular family vehicles, the Crosswind, enjoys the same popularity. Launched to compete against Toyota’s Tamaraw (named Kijang in Indonesia), it was first called Highlander, then Crosswind in the next generation. In fact, its most recent version is actually called Sportivo, the top trim level of the Crosswind that was eventually used as its name. Still, Crosswind today is used to refer to all models of that line.

Clockwise from top left: L-type, Singkit, Pizza, and Itlog Lancers.

Others were somewhat unintentional as in Mitsubishi’s case. Its most popular model, the Lancer, is often called by nicknames alluding to the shape of its headlights or taillights. While Japanese engineers refer to them by their chassis codes, A70, C6, CB, and CJ, we know them more by names like L-type, Singkit, Itlog, and Pizza.

Where have they gone?

Yet these days, the practice seems to have disappeared. The marketing teams of these car companies are coming up with longer and more complicated taglines. Toyota, once a savant at this, seems to have lost its touch, using generic taglines like ‘Power to Lead’ for the Fortuner and ‘Bring on the Thrill’ for the Vios. Rather than assigning it a simple noun, the taglines have become a ‘call to action’ but fail to stick the way the original nicknames did.

Car nuts, by contrast, have dropped the subjective nicknames and have opted to use the shorter, alphanumeric chassis codes.

In addition, many car companies have become beholden to their regional and global offices wishing to create global rather than localized products that are the same name no matter what country in the world you find them. This push for globalization is why one of the most beloved family cars, the Nissan Sentra, unfortunately had to be renamed Sylphy.

The few, the proud

Still, a few examples still survive to this day. Among motorcycles brands, Honda has been using the practice to its advantage. Its most popular model, the Click, is quite surprisingly better known as ‘Game Changer.’ Like Toyota, the Click was launched with the big and bold tagline on all promotional materials, meant to promote features like fuel injection and LED headlights that were absent in its competitors. Oddly enough, despite having a shorter actual name, many still opt to call it Game Changer.

Kia K2500 ‘Karga’

Among cars, Kia — under Ayala Corp. management — has begun to see the value of nicknames. Needing a leg up in the highly competitive light commercial vehicle segment, they’ve since promoted their reliable light truck, the K2500, as simply ‘Karga.’ Starting with a ‘K’ and being the Filipino word for ‘carry,’ there could be no more appropriate nickname.

Unsolicited advice

These shorter, catchier nicknames could be a powerful marketing tool, particularly among car brands eager to get buyers’ attention. It’s especially critical now with so many new brands, competition, and a limited market.

As such, I have a few suggestions, particularly for those cars struggling to win over buyers, perhaps owing to a lackluster name. I’m not suggesting changing the name entirely. However, taking Toyota’s example to heart, they should promote the car with a big, bold, and easy to remember tagline.

One of Ayala’s brands, Volkswagen, had the right idea when they hired Mr. Pure Energy, Gary Valenciano as its official endorser. In many videos, you’ll find the legendary artist driving the brand’s most luxurious sedan, the Lamando.

Volkswagen Lamando

Of course, that name has little effect on Pinoys, so why not co-opt popular phrases associated with Gary V’s like, ‘Pure Energy,’ or ‘Hataw Na.’ Fitted with a 1.6-liter turbo, the Lamando certainly feels like it, eagerly darting forward at your foot’s command. It doesn’t take much to plaster ‘Pure Energy’ or ‘Hataw Na’ on showrooms windows, brochures, or even commercials.

Geely Okavango

Another car seemingly saddled by its name is the Geely Okavango. And while Geely may have wanted to conjure images of safaris or expeditions with the world-renowned river delta, it simply doesn’t resonate with Filipino buyers. Our solution: promote it as the ‘Luxe Life.’ Taking a page from Toyota’s Love Life Corolla, the ‘Luxe Life’ Okavango will convey qualities Pinoys are looking for in a family vehicle. After all, it offers luxury features like high-quality interiors, a panoramic sunroof, an N95 air filter, and even hybrid power.

I’m positive the marketing teams of these brands will have a few choice criticisms about these suggestions. They don’t have to be the exact nicknames used. Though the idea of employing one could easily boost their popularity to some degree. In some cases, they might even become more popular than the unfortunately out-of-touch actual model names.