With Toyota’s recalls in the news, as well as the possible issues with other companies like Pontiac, Ford & Honda, I figured I would shed some light on the origins for the names of the companies from which we buy cars.
Alfa Romeo – the company was originally known as ALFA, an acronym for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili. When Nicola Romeo bought ALFA in 1915, his surname was appended.
Audi – Latin translation of the German name “Horch”. The founder August Horch left the company after five years, but still wanted to manufacture cars. Since the original “Horch” company was still there, he called his new company Audi, the Latin form of his last name. In English it is: “hark!”.
BMW – Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Factories).
Fiat – acronym of Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Italian Automobile Factory of Turin)
Hyundai – connotes the sense of “the present age” or “modernity” in Korean.
Mazda Motor Corporation – the company was founded as Toyo Kogyo, started manufacturing Mazda brand cars in 1931, and changed its name to Mazda in 1984. The cars were supposedly named after Ahura Mazda, the chief deity of the Zoroastrians, though many think this explanation was created after the fact, to cover up what is simply a poor anglicized version of the founders name, Jujiro Matsuda. This theory is supported by the fact that the company is referred to only as “Matsuda” in Japan.
Mitsubishi – the name Mitsubishi (三菱) has two parts: mitsu means three and hishi (changing to bishi in the middle of the word) means diamond (the shape). Hence, the three diamond logo. (Note that “diamond” in this context refers only to the rhombus shape, not to the precious gem.)
Nissan – the company was earlier known by the name Nippon Sangyo which means “Japan Industries”.
Rolls-Royce – name used by Rolls-Royce plc and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, among others. In 1884 Frederick Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business, making his first car, a Royce, in 1904. He was introduced to Charles Stewart Rolls on 4 May that year. The pair entered into a partnership in which Royce would manufacture cars to be sold exclusively by Rolls, and the cars would be called Rolls-Royce.
Subaru – from the Japanese name for the constellation known to Westerners as Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. Subaru was formed from a merger of seven other companies, and the constellation is featured on the company’s logo.
Toyota – from the name of the founder, Sakichi Toyoda. Initially called Toyeda, it was changed after a contest for a better-sounding name. The new name was written in katakana with eight strokes, a number that is considered lucky in Japan.
Volkswagen – from the German for people’s car. Ferdinand Porsche wanted to produce a car that was affordable for the masses – the Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen (or “Strength-Through-Joy car”, from a Nazi social organization) later became known, in English, as the Beetle.
All of these stolen shamelessly from a Wikipedia page, called “List of company name etymologies”, which has a tremendous list of not just the origins of the names of car companies, but myriad companies across the globe.