Oh, Audi, How Could You? The French Like Electric Cars, But...

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Audi R8 e-tron at Le Mans

Audi R8 e-tron at Le Mans

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Marketing missteps in naming cars quickly become legendary. There's the urban myth that the Chevrolet Nova failed in South America because in Spanish, no va means "won't go." (It's not true.)

But now it turns out that Audi may have committed a blunder in naming its line of electric cars e-Tron. Especially since they're about to be shown at the Paris Motor Show.

As one Francophone just pointed out to us, the French word étron is a particularly unfortunate choice in that language.

Online translation tools give French synonyms for étron that include caca and excrément. Or to put it a tad less delicately, in English, it means "crap, dirt, droppings ... muck, poop ... shite, turd".

Yes, it appears Audi may have named its entire line of electric cars after ... errrr ... dung.


French seems to pose frequent problems for automakers in naming cars. When Buick famously rebranded its midsize sedan from Regal to LaCrosse for 2004, its marketers were mortified to learn that in French Canadian slang, lacrosse was used by Québec teenagers to refer to the practice of masturbation.

Thus, in Canada, the midsize car otherwise known as the Buick LaCrosse was sold as the Buick Allure from 2005 until the 2010 model year. In an effort to unify global Buick model names, Francophone Canadian buyers will now have to be willing to say they drive a LaCrosse. Quelle horreur.

Other such gaffes globally include the Mitsubishi Pajero (in Spanish-speaking countries, pajero is a slang word for masturbator) and the Ford Pinto, which in Brazilian Portugese slang turns out to mean "small penis." And there are more.

Over to you, Audi.

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Comments (15)
  1. I guess it would be too much to revive the old "But it's really good s---"

  2. What, no mention of the SMART ED electric vehicle. I thought that would fit right in to the discussion.

  3. @John Briggs: Your wish is my command (well, in this case): http://www.thecarconnection.com/marty-blog/1047263_want-to-eradicate-any-smart-ed-worries-just-say-tanks

  4. Ahhhhh.... all of the wonerful reasons to hire a multi-lingual person in Marketing.....

  5. Who cares what the French think, they're French? They'll probably go on strike now.

  6. @Richard
    Hey, I'm French. You are right about not caring about us. On the other hand, Buick, Audi and other auto makers should pay attention if they want to sell us their cars. I certainly would never drive a car named Turd, but it don't mind its existence if that's how they want to name it...

  7. Most European cars have numbers for model names - eg Mercedes Benz E230 E300, BMW 330d, Audi A1....A8 Porsche 911. etc. Probably for this very reason. Most model numbers convey the engine size or relative position in the range.

  8. True, that you may not care, but, as things go, the future Audis's étron has already be nicknamed "la merde" (which has exactly the same meaning in everyday language) here, which is not a very good sign for its potential sales!
    By the way, I regularly receive questions by international firms to know wether potential commercial names might convey an undesired message in our "local language".. which may sound a rather good idea!

  9. Who gives an etron about what you think? you're nick is "Frenchie"

  10. I most certainty wouldn't drive Ford Pinto if I was among people using Brazilian Portuguese slang.
    An on the second thought, maybe it is a marketing trick!

  11. LaCrosse also mean for french quebecers: when somebody try to screw you with a bad product or a fake promotion... With the problems GM had the last years, it was really not the right time for that name.

  12. I have an issue besides the name dilemma. Is this really what Audi's electric cars are going to look like? I think it's a good idea to make a sporty electric car, but in the exact same design as the R8? In my opinion the Audi R8 and R8 V10 should be a "one of a kind" supercar. In my opinion, the fact that it's close twin brother is going to be electric only takes away from the glory that was the original R8. The hypercar that was "too perfect" as quoted by the great Jeremy Clarkson. The electric R8 goes to show that we are coming to the end of the age of the loud, flame-throwing super car age that we all grew up in. Many of us had posters of Lamborghinis and Ferarris on the walls when we were 10, the gas-guzzling supercars that you had to be an absolute lunatic to drive around. In my eyes, the R8 "electric" is taking away from the authenticity, or the historical artistic pieces that are supercars. Think of what would happen if a copy of the Mona-Lisa were "updated" and made holographic? It would still be not as great as the original, however it would be taking away from the original by "posing" as a version of the original work. This is what I feel this design has the potential to do to the R8.

  13. The problem with Lacrosse in French Canada is not as much the masturbation part (which would only be snicker-worthy) as the fact that it's *also* slang for a rip-off. Definitely not something you want your car associated with.

  14. Matt, you need to seriously re-evaluate your view point. You see yourself as this great speaker for cars of the past and how it is such a shame that they are changing. The old ferraris and lamborghinis were awesome. In the olden days. News flash: the world is in a crisis. There isn't a lot of gas to go around and where there is its being controlled by people who don't like sharing. Its not a horrible thing that we're trying to produce less cars that get 2 miles to the gallon. That is called progress (see webster if you need the definition). Just be happy that we are making cars that aren't going to destabilize the world, they are insanely good cars, and they don't look like the Toyota Pry-us.

  15. Also...this article is about something COMPLETELY different than what you are talking about.

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