How to Decipher Auto Marketing Jargon

From “all-new” to “facelift,” translate the most common terms car shoppers confront

BYJim Prueter
If you’ve been shopping for a new car, you’ve likely seen automakers refer to their vehicles with a dizzying variety of terms, including all-new, redesigned, refreshed, restyled, freshened, and facelift, to name just a few.
Because of the huge costs associated with bringing a new vehicle to market, automakers hope to get five to seven years out of a vehicle before making significant changes to it. To keep costs down and continue to appeal to consumers looking for new features, automakers typically make minor changes to an existing model throughout its five- to seven-year lifecycle. Efforts to market these updates have generated a dictionary’s worth of confusing industry buzzwords.
The terms automakers use to advertise major and minor changes vary from brand to brand, but several descriptors are prevalent throughout the industry. Here are a few translation guidelines for the most common terms you’ll encounter when researching your next new car.
While “all new” is used generously, it doesn’t always mean what you think it does. As a general rule, “all new” means something that has never been seen before. Take, for example, the 2017 Jaguar F-PACE. This vehicle is neither a variation on another model nor has it ever been built before. Oftentimes, however, the term also is used in car commercials to attract interest among car shoppers who want something new.
To further confuse matters, automakers occasionally call the next generation of a vehicle “all new” when, in fact, it is just redesigned. For example, Honda has called the 2017 Ridgeline pickup truck “all new,” but it’s technically a redesign, since Honda offered a Ridgeline model every year from 2006 – 2014.
These terms are interchangeable and often are applied to vehicles that get changes in appearance, new or different engines, or updated interiors. These changes generally show up on vehicles that are midway through their five- to seven-year lifecycle. Often, the term used is “mid-cycle makeover.” A perfect example is the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado pickup, which received a fairly major makeover to the exterior and sports a bolder, more sculpted look than the previous model year.
If a new or substantially redesigned vehicle was introduced for the previous year, the following year it might get a minor facelift such as the addition of LED headlamps, or a strip of chrome trim up front and in back. Mechanically, changes might include a new engine choice or the same model offered as a hybrid.
In any given year, only about 20 percent of all vehicles are redesigned or significantly updated. The rest are known as carry-over vehicles. Generally, a vehicle in its first or second year will be designated a carry-over and left almost completely unchanged. Manufacturers might offer carry-over models in a couple of new colors or add something minor like a USB port for a lower trim level.
JIM PRUETER, an automotive writer based in Phoenix, has provided reviews and advice about cars for more than 20 years.
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