The story Volkswagen wants us to believe is that "the people" wanted Tiguan, a blend of the German words for tiger (Tiger) and iguana (Leguan). (It's pronounced TEE-gwan.) After all, VW is using "The people want..." as a unifying tagline for all its models, no doubt to emphasize that Volkswagen means "people's car." For the Tiguan, a compact SUV introduced for the 2009 model year, the tagline is "The people want to play, but they want to play nice." (Works best when you imagine it spoken with a German accent.)
VW did in fact team up with AutoBild, publishers of German auto magazines, to sponsor a naming contest in which 350,000 readers cast votes. However, readers didn't suggest the names; they merely voted for names developed by VW's internal marketing group, according to this Dutch fan site. Other names on the ballot included Namib, Rockton, Samun, and Nanuk.
(I am so disappointed Nanuk didn't win. Just think: an ad campaign in which Robin Williams reprises Mork--nanuk-nanuk--and the opportunity for Marin County residents to call their vehicles Nanuk of the North Bay.)
The Dutch site quotes Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, VW brand management chairman: "This unique event is demonstrative of how Volkswagen is opening up: we made a clear appeal to the market -- potential buyers could help choose the name Tiguan. The positive reaction shows that this is the right approach."
Auto-industry and branding veterans have been more skeptical. Naming agency Igor International sneered: "[I]t is obvious to us that VW stacked the deck, subverted democracy, and got the name they wanted all along. Be careful what you wish for." Senior editor Ed Hellwig of the automobile site Edmunds called Tiguan a "ridiculous name." Motor Trend's Greg N. Brown wrote, "Though the rationale behind melding two animals into one nameplate escapes us (anything both furry and scaly is kind of creepy), the Tiguan is so appealing that its quirky name shouldn't deter shoppers[.]" The Dutch fan site says Tiguan "continues a tradition of utterly confusing names."
To that last point: really? Past VW model names in North America have fallen into three general categories: Smallish, Sorta Cute Animals (Beetle, Rabbit, Fox); Blowin' in the Wind (Golf is German for "gulf," as in "gulfstream"; Passat means "trade wind"; Jetta means "jet stream"); and Miscellaneous Weirdness That Probably Sounds Dandy in Deutsch. In the third category we find Tiguan as well as Sharan (from a Persian word meaning "carrier of kings"), Touran (from tour + Sharan), and Touareg (from the name of a nomadic North African tribe).
Most of those names are distinctive and unconfusing, if a bit strange to American ears accustomed to automobile names that evoke romantic places or large, threatening animals. Touran, Touareg, and Tiguan do invite confusion. Although it's not unusual for carmakers to bestow alliterative names on their products (Ford Fairlane, Focus, Fiesta; Dodge Dakota, Dart, Dynasty, Durango), it's much more challenging to keep them straight when the names are exotic, invented, or meaningless.
As for the tiger-iguana synthesis, I'm 50-50. Sure, I want a tiger in my tank, but a large, coldblooded lizard that stops moving when the temperature falls? Not so much.
Photo from Edmunds.