Hyundai Kona.
Hyundai Kona.

The car names that you can’t say in some countries

WHAT'S in a name?

A whole lot of grief if you get it wrong.

As a global business, the car industry is increasingly looking to use one nameplate around the world. That's why Ford changed the name of its much-loved Laser to Focus.

But often the meaning of a name is lost in translation, with hilarious results.

We look at some of the biggest fails.

Hyundai Kona

Hyundai was forced to rename its new baby SUV in Portugal to avoid an embarrassing translation. The SUV is called Kona around the globe, including neighbouring Spain, but in Portugal it is called the Kauai. The reason? The word Cona is vulgar slang for vagina in Portuguese.

Just across the border in Spain the Kona wears its global badge.
Just across the border in Spain the Kona wears its global badge.

Mitsubishi Pajero

Mitsubishi called its full-size 4WD the Pajero, but the name wouldn't fly in South America, where it is slang for "the person who masturbates often". Mitsubishi changed the name to Montero in those markets.

Buick's LaCrosse was initally called the Allure in Canada because in French-Canadian slang, Lacrosse meant self-gratification. Mazda's Laputa people mover was renamed in Spanish speaking countries because "la puta" means "the prostitute"

Toyota Centaur

Toyota Australia has had a couple of near misses with names as well. The Japanese brand had planned to call the Avalon family car the Centaur.

The Hyundai Portugal website shows the Kona as Kauai
The Hyundai Portugal website shows the Kona as Kauai

Problem was, that was the name of an Australian hospital ship sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Queensland in World War II. Only 64 of the 332 people on board survived.

Badges had already been produced for the cars before a local PR operative travelled to the war memorial in Canberra to buy a book on the Centaur tragedy and sent it to head office. The name was canned.

Toyota Chicane

When Toyota Australia developed a sporty version of the Toyota Aurion, they presented a number of potential names to bosses in Japan. One of them was chicane. To the Australians it conjured up images of race tracks and ripple strips. But to the assembled Japanese executives, it had an entirely different meaning.

Hyundai Kona sounds like a completely innocent name unless you are in Portugal
Hyundai Kona sounds like a completely innocent name unless you are in Portugal

In Japan, a chikan is a pervert who gropes women on trains.

Porsche 911

Porsche was another brand that found itself with a potential PR disaster on its hand, although the situation was totally beyond its control.

The brand decided to stick with its 911 nameplate in the aftermath of the Twin Towers tragedy, but not before carrying out research to see whether it should be retired. The maker said the overwhelming response was that the name should stay.


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