As if the economy, the Enron debacle, and those crooked Olympic judges weren't enough, there's another crisis brewing: We're running out of macho names for cars. It's been happening over the past few years. Automobiles - which used to be named for untamed animals (Mustang, Colt, Bronco), heroic creatures (Thunderbird, Firebird), or weaponry (Dart, Corvette) - first gave way to leisure activities (Golf), then astrological signs (Taurus), and finally lukewarm adjectives (Civic) that describe a car you couldn't exceed the speed limit in, even if you were late for Little League practice.

And now Pontiac - once the maker of mega-macho vehicles such as the Grand Am - has introduced a new model called ... the Vibe.

And Vibe can't be a car name. It just can't. "Vibe" is a hippie-era abbreviation connoting an imaginary energy field. As in, "Turn off that lava lamp, Moon Unit. It's giving me a bad vibe."

As a car name, Vibe is even worse than Honda's Accord, which means "an agreement, as between nations." Here you are, wanting to head down the open road with the wind in your hair. Instead, you're stuck talking to Prime Minister Koizumi through a translator.

Asian carmakers, by the way, are big on ephemeral qualities. Honda also makes the Insight - perfect for when you don't want to ask for directions. Suzuki's Esteem seems like a good choice for drivers who are in therapy. And Mitsubishi offers the Mirage - the car that just looks like you're driving it.

KIA makes the Sedona, the Spectra, and the Sportage - not to be confused with the Barrage, the Bandage, or the Bondage. ("Get your hands on a Bondage - you'll never let go!")

And wherever Daewoo cars are made, its three models (the Lanos, the Leganza, and the Nubira) all sound like rivers in east Africa.

Here in North America, Dodge remains a leader in picking weird names for cars. There are clouds (the Stratus), poisonous snakes (the Viper), inert gases (the Neon), and arcane adjectives (the Intrepid, which means "unshaken in the presence of danger"). ("That parking space looks tight, Arnie, but I'm going for it anyway!")

Western states and cities are big. Pontiac makes a Montana, Dodge makes a Dakota. GMC has a Sonoma, Toyota has a Tacoma. (Note: Toyota also makes a Sequoia, for the driver who wants the charm and reliability of a 3,000-year-old giant tree.)

And here in the sedentary 21st century, the right vehicle name lets you take a vicarious expedition into the unknown: Lincoln's Navigator, Nissan's Quest, Subaru's Outback, or GMC's Safari. Either way, you're in rough, uncharted territory; it just seems like you're picking up cottage cheese at Jewel.

The hazards of winter also show up repeatedly: GMC's Yukon, Toyota's Tundra, and Chevrolet's Avalanche - the only American vehicle currently named for a natural disaster.

If you fancy a car with a deeper meaning, choose from Axiom, Intrigue, Prizm, Protege, Silhouette, or Tribute. (Then scramble these to find an anagram meaning, "We ran out of ideas after 'Alero.'")

High-end car-namers have simply given up. BMW offers the 325, 330, and 525. Lexus gives you more with the ES300, GS300, and LS430. Mercedes makes the luxurious-sounding CLK 55 AMG. And Infiniti has the exciting G20 and I35 - each a smooth-riding homage to a winning bingo number.

Or go with a vowel-heavy, foreign-sounding car name no one will understand. They include : the Altima, the Bravada, the Elantra, the Impreza, and the Vitara. The other four are made up, but Impreza is Bulgarian for "floor it."

Copyright 2002 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio 720. E-mail and listen at (http://www.wgnradio.com).

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