General Motors said this morning it will ditch the shortened nickname "Chevy," instead opting for the full three-syllable "Chevrolet" when talking about the best-selling brand.
"Because Chevrolet is one of the fastest growing automotive brands globally, we will use Chevrolet in internal and external communications," the company said via its corporate Twitter account this morning. "We love when people call us Chevy and we are not trying anything to change this."
So, is it Chevy or Chevrolet? The reaction to the announcements was nearly universal from everyone I spoke with this morning.
"I think it's asinine," said Jim Bulin, an automotive consultant from Detroit. "I think when that gets broadcast to the general public, if it registers at all, those who already have a dim view of the empty suits in Detroit will only have it reconfirmed by this."
The company will change to use of the full name only in messaging and branding. A memo leaked to The New York Times said that the company even made a recommendation for how employees speak with their own families.
"We'd ask that whether you're talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward." The memo was signed by Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim Campbell, the G.M. division's vice president for marketing.
The decision seemed to cause a bit of stir in Detroit, no doubt energized by a whirlwind of marketing changes at the company happening in parallel. Chevrolet itself has seen three different ad agencies in as many months. On Thursday, company executives seemed to grasp how the memo was taking on a life of its own and issued the following statement:
"Today's emotional debate over a poorly worded memo on our use of the Chevrolet brand is a good reminder of how passionately people feel about Chevrolet."
The move won't be cheap. The company's various advertisements, websites and dealer signs still make heavy use of the "Chevy" name.
A Long History For A Short Name
In the 99 years since it was founded, Chevrolet became an unlikely American icon. The name comes from the brand's founder, the Swiss-born and French-raised racing driver Louis Chevrolet, who emigrated to the United States early in the 20th century. After proving his brilliance both behind the wheel and in the garage, he started the Chevrolet brand with William Durant, the maverick who conceptualized the idea of a many-brand car company called General Motors.
It wasn't until years later that the shortened word form found its stride. By the mid 20th century, "Chevy" had become not only the short-form name of the car company, but a thread in popular American culture. Driving your "Chevy to the levee" became perhaps the most iconic of all, from Don McLean's 1971 single "American Pie." Countless artists used the term, eventually pushing GM to appropriate it and brand its vehicles with the five-letter version instead of the full name.
"There's no negative perception of 'Chevy' to overcome," said Shane Mahoney of Mahoney + Company, a strategic marketing consultancy. "GM's effort at formalizing the Chevy brand seems to me to be a waste of energy, a strategic error and a distraction -- just as the company is emerging from bankruptcy and getting its product lineup to be very desirable and competitive again."
"On a different level, whether Chevrolet or GM like it or not, their products are bought by people who like to call them Chevy," said Bulin. "If you are well known enough to have your product called Bud instead of Budweiser or Coke instead of Coca-Cola, you should embrace it. This is a sign that people like you enough to give you a nickname."
In addition, there could be additional benefits in the shorter word given today's world of micro communications. Entrepreneur Sam Valenti IV founded the popular Ghostly International record label in 1999 and noted that he followed the two-syllable, long "e" sound employed by Sony and Disney when choosing the name of his company.
"Chevy is a 'lovemark,' to steal a line from Kevin Roberts, and has a heartfelt, warm American quality feel to it," said Valenti. "Especially today, when so much of our culture is getting repurposed into shorter forms, an economy of words is more important than ever. In light of that, Chevy is really strong."
Dealer reaction has been mixed. Rogers Dabbs Chevy of Brandon, Mississippi sent a note to its followers this morning: "Not sure how to feel about this one."
GM spokesperson Klaus-Peter Martin confirmed to AOL Autos today that dealers would have to change to use the full Chevrolet name over time. He did not specify the wind-down period for the name. "This is a process that will take a long time," Martin said.