What’s in a name? A whole lot – at least when it comes to marketing. Every company wants an edge, and one of the best ways is to have a term that’s on everyone’s lips – even if they don’t always know exactly what it means. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, but “Red Flower, De-thorned, Single Pack” might not sell as well.
Below, we’ve assembled some clever marketing terms that you’ve probably heard of. So, what’s real and what’s just hype?
Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive
It sounds like an equal amount of torque goes to each of the four wheels – and since many customers think that’s the ideal configuration for maximum traction, Subaru’s in no hurry to correct them.
In reality, it refers to the way the driveline is symmetrically laid out on either side of the car’s longitudinal axis. The horizontally opposed engine, transfer case, and rear differential form a mirror image on either side, which Subaru says provides better balance. While some Subaru vehicles do have a 50/50 torque split, others can have up to 60 percent of torque powering the front wheels under most driving conditions, sending more to the back as needed for better traction.
Jeep Trail Rated
If you’re serious about off-roading, your Jeep has a “Trail Rated” badge on it, which indicates a model that has “excelled and passed tests in five critical off-road categories” of traction, water fording, ground clearance, manoeuvrability, and articulation, according to Jeep.
Vehicles that wear the badge are very capable, but what Jeep doesn’t tell you is exactly what constitutes a passing grade. It’s a Jeep-specific marketing term and the company won’t say exactly how much water, articulation, ground clearance, and so on, actually make up the standards.
Ford Military-Grade Aluminum
Ford seldom mentions the F-150’s aluminum body without including the term “military-grade.” It’s understandable: most people equate steel with strength, while detractors like to compare lighter-weight aluminum with easily-crushable soda cans. So it’s logical that any aluminum that’s good enough for Army trucks has to be at least as sturdy as steel.
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However, there’s no such thing as “military-grade” aluminum. It’s a marketing term that Ford admits it invented for the F-150, going on the basis that its composition and heat-treating are similar to that of the aluminum used in some military vehicles. The US military does have official standards for approved materials, but they’re called “Mil-Spec”, a term Ford doesn’t use.
One of the most successful auto advertising campaigns in recent memory was Dodge’s “Hey, that thing got a Hemi?” tag line. It became the thing for your car to have, even if you didn’t have a clue what it actually was.
The name refers to the engine’s hemispherical-shaped combustion chambers, a design that reduces heat loss and improves air flow in the chamber for increased power. Chrysler first used it in 1951 and called it the FirePower engine, switching it to the Hemi name in 1964. The automaker didn’t invent the design and many companies have used similar hemispherical chambers, including Ford, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, and Porsche – but Chrysler trademarked the Hemi name in 1991 and so is the only one that can currently use it.
“Natural” and “synthetic” have generally understood definitions in many food and cosmetic products, and so many people assume that a bottle of synthetic oil has no liquefied dinosaur bits inside. It is possible to make oil completely in a lab, but most synthetic oil has a base of crude petroleum.
The “synthetic” part is a process that forms consistently shaped molecules, which improves the oil’s flow and lubrication, increases stability, and eliminates the crude’s natural contaminants. Some synthetic oil is made from natural gas rather than crude – but that, of course, is also a fossil fuel.
Top Tier Gasoline
Many stations sell Top Tier gasoline, and it’s recommended by some automakers for their vehicles. It’s gasoline with a specified level of detergent that’s above the legal minimum, and that meets performance tests against deposits and fuel-injector fouling. The benefit, according to Top Tier, is that your engine stays cleaner (although it won’t clean an engine that’s already gunky inside).
Top Tier is a private program and its standards were developed jointly by BMW, GM, Honda, and Toyota. Fuel additive manufacturers pay to have their products tested to Top Tier standards, and gasoline retail companies pay an annual fee to be part of the program, based on the number of stations they operate, if they choose to sell the gas. There are studies that show Top Tier does what it says, but fewer that compare Top Tier to brands that may also have higher-than-legal-minimum additive levels, but don’t pay to be part of the program.
You’ll often see winter gasoline advertised during that season, and one company has trademarked the “Winter Gas” name. It’s all about the fuel having higher volatility, which makes it easier to start your engine in cold weather, but which also affects how much it pollutes. How quickly gasoline evaporates is measured by RVP, for Reid Vapour Pressure. Gas with high RVP evaporates faster, which increases the amount of harmful emissions that escape when you’re filling up.
In hot weather, gasoline is federally required to have lower RVP, because the ambient heat speeds up evaporation. Fuel vaporization is slower in cold weather, so a higher RVP is allowed. Fuel retailers can legally sell lower-RVP “summer” gas all year ’round, but because “winter” gasoline is cheaper to refine and is better for cold-weather starts, most switch over once summer gas is no longer required.
Antique, Vintage, and Classic Cars
These aren’t automaker terms, of course, but there are so many arguments over them that we thought we’d clear it up. The reality is that there is no single or universal definition for any of them.
Depending on where you are, your local insurance companies or licensing bodies may set standards, such as “classic car insurance” being available only for vehicles that are 25 years or older, but that’s a number they set on their own. Other than “Full Classic ” – a term trademarked by the Classic Car Club of America that designates specific qualifying cars on their list – these terms are really whatever each person thinks they mean.